Translating the Word for Home


A small city disappears in

the near-sighted dusk of a coastal winter.

Someone is walking home as I once did.

Someone is thinking as I did once

this is their neighborhood, their consolation.

Once I thought words could describe this.

Now I reach for the sable brush

my mother once used, lifting it clear

from the jar of turpentine

it hasn’t steeped in for fifty years.


Carmine and magenta. An arm bent 

at the elbow. Dense yellow fog.

Alizarine, cobalt, yellow ochre.

Ultramarine and manganese.

Ivory added to and mixed with 

all of them, making colors run 

into the Connemara summer 

she is painting on a London afternoon:

a riddle of ocean light, a gannet

riding a wave, a creel of mackerel.


A glass mirror mounted on swivels.

A palette splashed with oil paints

circling wood with ochre, orange,

cadmium, ultramarine, bright white.

Fog outside the window, thinned-out

West-of-Ireland distances on canvas.

My mother settling the palette to her left,

putting her thumb in the opening.

Reaching for the brush in its jar.


A canvas stretched out and ready

to be tacked to the frame, made tight,

primed with animal glues and linseed,

measuring three by two, more or less.

The gesso put on with a wide brush.

The brushes dropped into the unstirred

cloudy and distilled turpentine, 

ready for the paint-stained and rough

hemmed cotton rag to clean.


When I was a child I picked it up.

What would I do if I found it now?

This so-called sable brush 

that started its journey in the dark

on the back of a weasel in the center 

of a Siberian wood and moved on

to a cormorant’s wing laced with

Atlantic water it would trace, 

in my mother’s hand. I would use it

to unsay my own evening:


Granite. Ocean grit. Distance.

Then open a watercolor sketchbook.

As I held the plainwood handle

I would dip the sable in azure or shadow

until a winter evening re-appeared.

A road. Someone walking home,

who might be me, inhaling peat smoke.

Then dip the brush hairs in window,

then yellow light and wash the whole

watercolor block with home.


Eavan Boland (1944–2020) authored many books over her distinguished career, including, most recently, A Poet’s Dublin (2016) and A Woman Without a Country (2014). Other poetry volumes include Domestic Violence (2007); Against Love Poetry (2001); The Lost Land (1998); and In a Time of Violence (1994). Boland also published two books of prose: A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet (2011) and Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (1995); she also co-edited with Mark Strand and Edward Hirsch the Norton anthologies The Making of a Sonnet (2007) and The Making of a Poem (2000). Her numerous honors include a Lannan Foundation Award in poetry and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Royal Irish Academy. Boland directed the creative-writing program at Stanford University.