This is another international submission with a moving story behind it. We are very honored to host Dermot Bolger’s ‘Poem During a Pandemic for Patricia Lynch.’
Dermot Bolger is an Irish poet, novelist and playwright who received the 2021 O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award. His fourteen novels include The Journey Home. His debut play, The Lament for Arthur Cleary, received the Samuel Beckett Prize. Recent plays for Ireland’s National Theatre, the Abbey, include his adaption of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Dermot explains about this poem: ‘The poem is about writing a night during the pandemic and the theme set me thinking about my walks. In Dublin it is impossible to walk anywhere without passing a writer’s house (my back garden quite literally backs on the back garden of one of Joyce’s childhood homes) and one house I pass most nights once belonged to a very famous but now forgotten Irish children’s writer, Patricia Lynch. During the pandemic I wrote a poem about her one night when stopped outside her home.’
Poem During a Pandemic for Patricia Lynch
(Author of “The Turf Cutter’s Donkey”, 1894-1972)
It required a pandemic to cause this birdsong
To sound as vibrant here as when greenfinches sang
In the fields that once besieged this secluded road
Where you quietly wrote books for four decades.
You are all but forgotten now, but I always pause
To gaze at what was once your book-filled abode.
Your garden a riot of flowers, a weekly shopping list
Of sensible provisions phoned into the local grocer
To arrive in late afternoon, after you finished writing
And patiently answered letters from young readers,
Whose parents were blithely unaware of how you first
Came to Dublin to write reports for Sylvia Pankhurst’s
Staunch communist paper, The Workers’ Dreadnought,
Or how your husband, R. M. Fox, was upstairs typing
Defiant books about Lenin, Mao Zedong and Jim Larkin.
During the lockdown birdsong became the only sound
On the streets as children learnt lexicons of dangers;
Infection rates, social distancing, phased lockdowns:
Phrases becoming as woven into their consciousness
As your book titles were for a generation who adored
The Bookshop on the Quay or The Old Black Sea Chest.
No plaque exists to you, but you might feel embarrassed
By any fuss in this deluxe enclave where you struggled
In old age; your husband gone, your novels starting
To drift out of print, your garden unmanageable
With your arthritic hands. Cocoa and cherry brandy
Became occasional treats that helped steer you to sleep,
As your house, unchanged since the 1930s, fell apart.
The modernist suntrap rooms where you embarked
On fictional voyages started to ship water and capsize,
Until a puppeteering family rescued you from loneliness,
To bestow a miraculous final chapter to your life.
So perhaps it was apt, amid the birdsong of lockdown,
That while no hint of your physical presence pervaded
This street that felt as hushed as in any ghostly tale,
I possessed an eerie sense when passing neatly parked
Audi SUVs, sensible second cars and E-class Mercs.
I knew that my sensation of being watched was illusory
But I felt reluctant to look back, lest I discovered
A turf cutter’s donkey patiently standing on the corner,
Its reins held by a spirited young girl and her brother,
While an old lady in a headscarf beckoned them forth
From this street on which they were first conjured
By a writer robbed of all sense of home in childhood,
Who rediscovered it here with the man who loved her.