Eavan Boland – The Fire Gilder

Eavan Frances Boland (September 24, 1944 – April 27, 2020)

She loved silver, she loved gold,
my mother. She spoke about the influence
of metals, the congruence of atoms,
the art classes where she learned
these things: think of it
she would say as she told me
to gild any surface a master craftsman
had to meld gold with mercury,
had to heat both so one was volatile,
one was not
and to do it right
had to separate them and then
burn, burn, burn mercury
until it fled and left behind
a skin of light. The only thing, she added—
but what came after that I forgot.
What she spent a lifetime forgetting
could be my subject:
the fenced-in small towns of Leinster,
the coastal villages where the language
of the sea was handed on,
phrases bruised by storms,
by shipwrecks. But isn’t.
My subject is the part wishing plays in
the way villages are made
to vanish, in the way I learned
to separate memory from knowledge,
so one was volatile, one was not
and how I started writing,
burning light,
building heat until all at once
I was the fire gilder
ready to lay radiance down,
ready to decorate it happened
with it never did when
all at once I remember what it was
she said: the only thing is
it is extremely dangerous.