A poem by Barbara Smith

One of Each

You were nearly Nemain and Macha
for a while, as I reversed into the idea
of two not one. I turned to books
to see how to deal with motherhood
again. Born in the hot-house of Gemini,
Dáire, you were all ready for the bull’s-eye.

Small, dark, but sturdy like an oak;
you emerged – just like I imagined the stoic
owner of that brown bull that set off
all of Ulster’s woes, with Medbh’s
mad quest – six-pound-six and a double crown
whirling vernixed hair up and around

to your father’s huge eyes, all indulged
within the handhold of a soft skull.
But Eímear, you stayed beneath my ribs;
the registrar producing you like a gift
to warm applause from Sister, nurses, students;
just like Cúchulainn’s darling, already fluent

in the crooking of others to a finger’s curl.
A smaller purse of red lips; eyes that curved
in echo of your brother’s; but smaller by
just four ounces. You both slept – doubly wise –
swinging in a plastic crib: two small Buddhas
responding blindly to each other’s touches.

(from The Angels’ Share)

* Nemain & Macha were aspects of the goddess of war, the Morrigan.
Medbh, queen of Connacht led an army to capture the brown bull
of Cooley (owned by Dáire) so she could claim more goods than her
husband, Ailill. Ulster was defended from the onslaught by Cúchulainn
in the story cycle, The Táin, which is associated with north Louth.
Eímear was Cúchulainn’s wife.
Barbara Smith is a hard-working poet, reviewer and tutor living on the East coast of Ireland with a large family. Her work has won prizes and bursaries and her second collection is The Angels’ Share, from Doghouse Books.

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