‘Beyond the Pale’ by Ann Leahy

Beyond the Pale
(in West Cork)

I commit a minor act of appropriation –
pick plants whose names I don’t know
from the ditches to try and make my own
of the unfamiliar:
the rise ahead in the road
the peak of Miskish behind me
the arthritic finger of Coulagh bay before me.

In my field guide I always seem
to be going over the same ground:
Heath Speedwell, Scabious, Lady’s Bedstraw.
Words from a language I speak
that remain as foreign as the names
for parts of speech: possessive pronouns,
complex prepositions – the past imperfect.

I consult ‘O’Donaill’, roll the Irish names
around my mouth like bulls eyes:
Annulach, Cab an Ghasáin, Boladh Cnis.
Words that sound familiar
from a language I don’t speak,
whose sense is raw around the edge –
plucked stems themselves.

Annulach – Speedwell – lit. arrogance
Cab an Ghasáin – Scabious – lit. toothless mouth of the sprig
Boladh Cnis – Lady’s Bedstraw – lit. smell of skin

‘Beyond the Pale’, appeared in the collection, The Woman Who Lived her Life Backwards (Ann Leahy, Arlen House 2008)

Ann Leahy’s first collection, The Woman who Lived her Life Backwards (Arlen House, 2008), won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Individual poems have also won national awards (the Poetry on the Wall, and Clogh Writers’ prizes and others) and have twice been commended in the British National Poetry Competition. Her poems have been published widely in journals (Stand, AGENDA, Orbis, Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, New Welsh Review and others) and anthologies (Best of Irish Poetry 2010; The Echoing Years: An Anthology of Poetry from Canada and Ireland, 2007 and others). She has taken part in writers’ festivals in Ireland and Germany, and received a Culture Ireland bursary for a reading tour in the U.S. She grew up in Co. Tipperary and lives in Dublin.