by Don Hynes

PrologueIreland, 1919

Come near this story
and you may be burned
as I was burned and died
and lived again.

To live, that is the challenge.
To surrender is to die,
to give up hope and faith,
but to find peace
is to allow the healing
of the dark cave,
the deep river,
the depthless ocean.

Then to return,
always the return,
for the message
of the unheard
to find voice
and rise like trees,
pour like rivers,
birth in words
from the womb
of creation.


Grand SightPacific Northwest, 2004

Sun lights the distant mountains,
the warmth inviting
though the water is gray black
and wind swept;
I watch the mountains
to lessen my fear
of the open crossing.

My father lived for twenty years
on a farm beside the Shannon,
never learning to swim.
One day he and I and Uncle Pat
drove over the midlands to Galway Bay
and Paddy, 81, exclaimed
Like he’d never seen the ocean.


They’re with me today as I venture out,
dead weight wanting to drag bottom,
no belief in buoyancy or navigation,
only the security of hunger
and the unchanging green
of one fixed place on the tide.

The WeddingIreland, 1800’s

“We want you to marry us Father.”
What cheek, the priest thought,
sitting there with a baby in her lap,
asking me to marry them.

“I’ll need to hear your confession first.”
The man flinched, not raising his head;
rough hands kneading his cap,
twisting it like rope.

“I’m not sorry for anything,” she said,
except coming here, under her breath.
Bold as brass, thought the old priest,
though he knew enough to hold his peace.

“There’s something we can all find
if we come to the Lord, child,”
and it won’t be anything I need
as she remembered the damp cottage,
the stink of wool, rotten vegetables
and the hunger.


“I’ll find something Father
if you’ll make the match”
and a fine one it will be, thought the priest
as he looked past them and the baby
down the mud rutted road,
the sky filled with black clouds
and twilight fading.

The man never looked up
as they walked toward the church
and the small light of the vestibule.

She knelt with the baby;
when the priest pulled back the screen
she crossed herself and spoke without faltering:
“Bless me Father for I have sinned.
It’s been a while since my last confession.
I’ve wanted what I’ll never have,
what I’ve got I may not keep”
and that was it.

He gave her the usual penance
knowing a thousand rosaries
wouldn’t chip the flint off this one.

The man kept his hand over his mouth
while he mumbled his contrition;
the old priest didn’t have the heart
to say speak up, couldn’t bear his own voice
echoing in the emptiness of the cruciform.

The man may have cared more
but he was beaten harder.
He’d shoulder a burden
but whatever light he had was gone out.
She’d carry them both with her fire and fierce will.

The priest called his housekeeper to bear witness;
he didn’t bother about rings
knowing they hadn’t one between them.
“What God has joined together...till death do you part”

as the baby wailed, the hat twisted tighter
and the girl thought the day will come soon enough
as they forced open the wooden door
into the growing dark,
the wind raking the leafless trees with cold rain falling.