Come Back

by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

copyright ©Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin 2009

Although there is no paper yet, no ink
There is already the hand
That moves, needing to write
Words never shouted from balconies of rock
Into the concave hills
To one far away, whose hair
On a collarbone resembles
That break in the dunes, that tufted ridge
He must have passed, faring away.

If the railway does not exist yet, there is, even
Now, a nostril to recognize
The smells of fatigue and arrival,
An ear cocked for the slow beginning,
Deliberated, of movement, wheels rolling.

If the telephone has not been invented
By anyone, still the woman in the scratchy shirt,
Strapped to her bed, on a dark evening,
With rain beginning outside, is sending
Impulses that sound and stop and ask
Again and again for help, from the one
Who is far away, slowly
Beginning her day’s work,
Or, perhaps, from one already in his grave.

Notes on the Poem

How does Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's poem "Come Back", from her 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize-winning collection The Sun-fish, manage to hold us in such a surprisingly intense grip? Ní Chuilleanáin uses a potent poetic method to imbue her words with a power to connect reader and poem, even as, ironically, the poem depicts breakdowns in connections. We've scrutinized once before the poetic device in question - synecdoche - in Michael Symmons Roberts' poem "The Hands." Essentially, with synecdoche a part of something represents the whole, or a whole represents a part. While Symmons Roberts used the method to shocking and macabre effect, Ní Chuilleanáin deploys it here with more poignant results. "the hand That moves, needing to write" is the first gently disembodied indication that someone is frustated in and unable to communicate. The sense of that someone is departing or has departed is captured in this both striking and intimate juxtaposition: "To one far away, whose hair On a collarbone resembles That break in the dunes, that tufted ridge He must have passed, faring away." The phrases "far away" and "faring away" frame this beautifully, too. All senses are attuned accordingly, including those of smell and hearing, delicately referenced by "nostril" and "an ear cocked." The cumulative synecdochical effect is of someone on high alert. At the same time, there is a sense of someone yearning - perhaps hopelessly - for the departed to return. "With rain beginning outside, is sending Impulses tht sound and stop and ask Again and again for help" ... and oh, that phrase "far away" is repeated wistfully. The theme of disconnection recurs in subsequent work by Ní Chuilleanáin. Listen to the haunting echoes in this poem from her 2015 collection The Boys of Bluehill. A plaintive and almost chilling link between the two poems is the thwarted desire - "needing to write" - to communicate.

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