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Liz Dolan

Foreign Exchange - Armagh, 1965

Because we swore to Maura to visit
her bachelor brother, we stumbled over stones
to his bloom-bare cottage yoked in the elbow
of a mountain. Unfeathered
by a female for twenty years, his aerie’s
naked windows let in anemic light.

Battery-powered Radio Caroline oozed news
in a soothing British drone as he crushed
lit butts on the sod floor. Temple-grayed
and arms-sinewed, he fumbled tea cups
while we told him how his sister served cocktails
at Tavern on the Green. Och aye, he nodded
with a fetching twist of his head.
Sparse notes ended on a high Armagh pitch.
                                       Was he questioning us?

A man we thought starved for craic spoke few words
as we babbled, sassy New York yanks, too green
to grasp why he relished his blue dome of silence,
why he tied himself to hardscrabble soil. We pitied him,
never kenning* he might pity us trapped
by the clatter and clutter of a city, where we
could never taste the sky. Soon I would long
to trade places with him. Dreading
to leave him alone, we shook his calloused hand
and descended to lush Lough Neagh.
On Ard Mhacha Hill his sheep bleated
                     needing to be sheared.


*kenning: knowing