Empathy, historical awareness and a meticulous attention to detail have long been among the trademarks of Eva Bourke’s poetry. In Seeing Yellow, her seventh collection, even in a vignette of her young mother in an unremarkable small railway station, the German-born Galway resident makes her readers mindful of “the disasters and joys” of the past and of those who face them “with nothing but … light luggage”. The title poem recalls the failing Pearse Hutchinson in hospital, his visitor, inspired by Van Gogh, bringing the old poet a bunch of sunflowers for his bedside, holding “their rough stalks like torches” for the journey ahead. Though her poetry cannot be reduced to a function, its power to build connections between here and there, now and then, is everywhere evident in a book of heartfelt and graceful expression where “the garden gates of memory” may at any moment swing open, to reveal not so much a distant world as an invitation to see our own in a new light.
“These poems suggest that the soul is an enduring gentleness in us, in others, in perhaps everything, and that it needs us to release it, to let it breathe, to nourish it with what we create rather than destroy.”
—Fred Marchant on piano
Brooklyn Morning Weddings
The morning was innocent, it was a young child still
rolling its blue dice across the roof tops of the city
and through its dark canyons, not caring
what would become of the day,
And nothing could have been more guileless
than the sun rising on the East River – its banks
still in darkness – turning the waltzing beat of Manhattan
into an atonal composer’s glittering soundscape.
We crossed the river in a rattling carriage.
Three black buskers performed for us,
juggled and swung off the handrails defying gravity
in all their young muscular grace and thoughtlessness,
That day with a light-hearted wind off distant forests
and small boats abob on waves near Pier Five
with their old ladies’ names, Agnes, Clarissa, Griseldis,
penciled in with pastel colours,
we walked into the shadow below Brooklyn Bridge,
and nothing could have been more surprising
than the warm smell of cinnamon and honey welcoming us,
the fires and the white golden dough baking
in preparation for banquets.
And then we saw them arriving: the white,
the orange, purple and blue wedding parties,
brides and bridesmaids in dresses more scalloped and sheer
than rare, tropical blossoms,
and the boys, taking their colours from them,
wore matching suits and ties; it seemed the rainbow
ended here on the river banks below the bridge.
Whatever hardship had brought them to the benevolent,
air-bridged harbour from distant worlds, that day
of the weddings they came from all boroughs of the city,
from Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan,
migrating in their dozens with gifts of rosemary
and myrtle for the goddess; entire flocks of families,
best men, parents, children and friends,
with the couples islanded amidst them
and the city open wide to them all.
Let the small crafts take off for Cythera with a cargo
of worshippers, trailing a droplet-embroidered
wake behind them.
Let dozens of volleyballs nearby in the courts fly heavenwards
in ecstasy, let the brides step into the arms
of their grooms at the instant the quick-winged light
touches the crowns of their heads.