My mother’s name is Brigid, named as almost every Irish person used to be, after a saint. And today is Brigid’s day, one of the most important days of the year. Imbolc in Gaelic, after the Celtic tradition: the first day of spring.
Not that you’d know it to look outside and most Irish people shiver and shelter from the rain all the way up to St Patrick’s Day, mid-March, and beyond.
A few years ago, I wrote a poem about Brigid, in the style of the old Irish poetry, the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe.
I’ve revised it for today.
Queen of queens, they called her in the old books,
the Irish Virgin. Never washed hands nor head
in sight of a man, the books said, never
looked into a man’s face. She was good
with the poor, multiplied food, gave ale to lepers.
Among birds, call her dove; among trees, a vine.
A sun among stars. Such was the sort of woman
preferred as the takeover was made: funnel for
His glory, consecrated cask, intercessor. Never a
comment from Brigid on any of this, the reverence
or the upbraidings. Her realm was the lacuna, her
sceptre: silence. Her own way of life its own witness.
Out of the lure of lust, or the dust of great deeds,
she was reduced: to consort, mother-virgin,
to victim, to whore. I am not as womanly a woman
as she. So I speak, to say: Let us see
that it is she who conceives and she who does bear.
She who knitted us in the womb, and who cradles our tomb-fraying. She who offers her arms, clothes us in compassion, smiles as we wriggle for baubles, lifts
us aloft to whisper through our ears, to kiss our
our eyes, to touch her cooling cheek to our cheeks.