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Montbretia

for Michael O’Connell

Montbretia blooming up the Moveen Road,
never native to the flora hereabouts,
arrived more than a hundred years ago
when sons of the Dutch-born landlord both went out
to fight for the crown in the Boer Wars.
One was killed. One came home with flowers—
this orangey iris from South Africa,
named for a botanist somewhere in France
who was named for the hill that he called home
a century before. It was ever thus—
from the place, a people; from the mass, particulars:
this tribe, this kind, this crowd, this sort, not that.
From all of time, this late July, this moment;
from every other one, this one and only.
Especially we name the wars and flowers,
the chieftains and discoverers, gods and lovers.
So: Crocosmia, crocosmiiflora
from the family Iridaceae
those subdividing tongues and etymologies,
those lists and plots, old myths and litanies.
The seedling planted in the great-house garden
leapt the stone walls of the Vandeleurs
in the beak of a bird, on gardener’s boot or breeze
and spread through Kilrush, round Poulnasherry
and out the townlands of the estuary,
all the way to Loop Head where West Clare ends,
and where some western in his anecdotage,
accounting for the rock off that peninsula—
that limestone tower, that god-awful keening—
fashioned a story of star-crossed lovers
who, running from love’s grievous binding knot,
or striving for some distant privacy,
leapt the chasm to the tiny island.
One version holds they both leapt back again.
One made it and one fell to death, withal
we’ve named whatever perched or nested there:
storm petral, common tern and herring gull,
Dermot and his Grainne, Cuchulain and Mal,
shearwater, fulmer, Larus argentatus.
Thus, Loop Head is the place where lovers leapt
and found, like wars and flowers, everything
repeats itself—the setting out, the settling in,
the loop unwound winds up itself again;
the story, the screech of seabirds, the voice of gods,
in every leap some landing and some fall;
the seed, the stone: in every start an end.

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Thomas Lynch is an American writer of poetry, essays, fiction. He continues to explore his ancestral roots in Ireland. His essays have won the Heartland Prize for non-fiction, the American Book Award, and the Great Lakes Book Award. His work—in literature and in his profession as funeral director—has been the subject of two documentary films: “The Undertaking” winning the 2008 Emmy Award for Arts and Culture, Documentary; “Learning Gravity” awarded the Michigan Prize by Michael Moore. Lynch teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); he participates in professional conferences of funeral directors, hospice and medical ethics professionals, clergy, educators, and business leaders.
“Montbretia” appears in Walking Papers: Poems 1999 – 2009, published in 2012.
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Etymology is the study of the origin of a word or name, and follows its changing meaning over generations, lands and languages.

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