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AT THE WORLD’S EDGE

A year after we honeymooned by the shores

of Bantry Bay opposite Whiddy Island –

low lying, with gently rolling hills –

construction began on the island

of an international oil terminal,

big enough to permit the largest tankers

to unload straight from the Persian Gulf.

The bay was ideal – a deep, sheltered channel,

far away from crowded shipping lanes,

and Bantry town’s population was small.

In ’79 an ultra-large tanker

exploded at the jetty killing scores.

The terminal was closed permanently.

Our memories of oyster-catchers

in the estuary were replaced with

the heavy wash of shipping storeys high,

then sudden, volcanic conflagration,

and the bay darkening with flotsam.

The nearby village of Kealkill was the site

of the Civil War’s first fatalities,

two IRA Volunteers from Bantry.

In the ’90s, the forestry commission,

as elsewhere throughout the republic,

on peat land and once cultivated fields,

planted fast growing Sitka spruce – native

to Alaska, sacred for the Haida,

a First Nation coastal tribe of fishers.

One of the residents of Kealkill

objected to the darkness and the dankness

the spruce created, a perpetual gloom

that killed the bilberries that had been

abundant. Every so often, for

twenty years, she felled a tree, and scattered seeds: 

birch, hazel, oak, alder, crab apple, rowan.

‘As time went on,’ she said at her trial, ‘I got

bolder’. The Garda had heard the chainsaw,

and arrested her, covered in sawdust.

On Whiddy Island there are the remains

of the blackened oil jetty, and, by the shore,

overgrown with hawthorn and gorse,

the stone ruins of curing sheds for pressing

shoals of pilchards caught off the coast, in most years,

for export to France, Spain and Italy –

a trade abandoned for easier pickings.

Our bedroom overlooked the rich, deep waters.

Above the bed was a garish print

of the revelation of the Sacred Heart.

‘Strange to be there beginning something new…

Strange to go there, for what might come’,

I wrote, more than fifty years ago.

But what do young men know, surprised

by death’s ubiquity? We had driven,

one benign August day, across Ireland,

asking a drunk for the way out of Dublin,

passing galloping horses on the Curragh,

later fallen towers, and barefoot children,

and dry-stone walls festooned with fuchsia  –

arriving in the early evening,

with the bay still as glass.

© Copyright David Selzer
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5 Responses
  • Mary Clark
    December 31, 2021

    The poem is wonderful in its circularity, wayfaring, ruptures and confluences. The ‘rich, deep waters’. Then bad decisions based on greed and ignorance. The slow hacking away, and planting anew, I loved that woman! Images replacing one another, many too painful, a few healing. Can the balance be restored?

  • Alan Horne
    January 2, 2022

    Yes, the chainsaw woman is a hero! There’s a lot to this poem, David, I like it a lot.

  • John Plummer
    January 2, 2022

    Rich reflections on Ireland and changing times. Every time I visit I come back with too much to fit into the ragged patchwork of my previous understanding. A strange mixture of the discomforting and a joyful sense of discovery. Our footprints are everywhere.

  • Elise Oliver
    January 3, 2022

    At the World’s Edge
    Regretfully, Alan Horne is only partially correct in labelling Sioned Jones a ‘hero’. I have a revealing postscript to this ‘hero’ of guerrilla rewilding, which I will send to you and you will laugh, as did I. The moral of this particular excerpt of her story is to beware of an axe-wielding Welshwoman, protecting her Irish bilberries because, in a world of idealism, could it be true that only the mad are sane?

    Mary Clark’s description of the ‘circularity’ is à point, I feel.

  • John Huddart
    January 4, 2022

    Rich and marvellous – but then so are the others!

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