Vanishing Points

Vanishing Points: II A Wedding Letter, Edinburgh, 1906

The next poem in the sequence is ‘A Wedding Letter, Edinburgh, 1906’. The O’Riordan side of my family emigrated from Mill Street in Cork to Edinburgh, and we have in our possession a letter from the first O’Riordan to leave, that he wrote to his daughter on the eve of her wedding. It’s written in this Edwardian high style: he’d done quite well for himself working for the customs and excise, and his daughter had gone on to study at the Sorbonne and was about to marry a Frenchman. I was drawn to the idea that his mother lived on only in the letter, and that once the letter was lost or forgotten, so to would be the final memory of her.

II A Wedding Letter, Edinburgh, 1906

Long after the site of any headstone was forgotten
you live on in the letter my ancestor, the customs-man,
gave to his daughter the night of her wedding.
Knitted in a chain mail script, your identity clings
like a broken web to a windowsill, as he recalls
how, as a boy at your fireside, a shanachie
traced their family back to the garden of Eden.
How you procured medicines for childhood diseases,
at wakes would carry your hospitality to extravagance,
and never spoke English with any satisfaction.
Big-hearted drunk, shy of my mother tongue:
I roll your word for liquor, usquebaugh, around my mouth.
You are distilled before you disappear forever
like the raised glass, the sunlight on one last golden measure.

from In The Flesh (Chatto & Windus, 2010), © Adam O’Riordan 2010, used by permission of the author.

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