after the Joe Mooney Summer School, Drumshanbo, Co . Leitrim, July 2002.

The Sligo train takes me to the singing place,
the place where mines and quarries can be treacherous
and the undertaker buys more than his fair share of drink;
where the famine graveyard is a single field,
the sun shining on its silent slope this afternoon
as my friend refuses to play a flute lament.

I am here to sing, and sing I do, in a classroom
of women who have journeyed to this town
to do the same. We learn twenty songs together
from Beleek Rosie with the red jacket and the ready
laugh. We sing about The Good Ship Kangaroo,
The Bonny Bunch of Roses and the Verdant Braes of Skreen.

We sing next door to the harpers and fiddlers, we drink
tea with the box-players and the set-dancers,
we nod to the bodhran and whistle players.
We sing. Our instruments are invisible. We carry them
everywhere. They are our own, and only
they can marry the words to the tunes.

In Monica’s Bar we swap songs like beads,
applause stringing this one to the next. We sing of emigration,
of love charmed or doomed, of death and Napoleon.
We can’t stop singing, except to listen to another song.
We don’t want the singing to stop, but voices will not
hold out forever without a break. The train home is silent.