The American poet and essayist Lynne McMahon, recipient of an Award for Literary Excellence from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Visiting Poet at the University of California-Irvine, writes a personal history of a stray Claddagh ring. The poem playfully abandons the traditional story “(tell me again the name of this thing?)” for an imagined history for a lowly stray ring found down the back of a seat in an empty Sligo diner – personal, not historic, yet no less real and enduring. “I never take it off”, she ends.
“Common all over Ireland, unknown to me,
(tell me again the name of this thing?)
it’s a claddagh, a sweetheart ring,
silver hands clasping a rounded heart,
an apple, I mistakenly thought,
topped by a crown.
I still think of it as my regnant pomme
because it’s French, and wrong,
and invented etymologies pass the time
those days you’re gone.
Irish clichés, like certain songs,
wring from me
a momentary recognition that trash
sent bowling down the street
by sudden wind, or showery smoke trees
whipsawing across the path
their fine debris, means home to me,
and however long
estranged we’ve been, or silvered over
by borrowed themes,
these homely things make meaning of us.
I feel it just as much as you –
that near-empty diner in Sligo
where you found the ring
wedged in the cushioned booth,
rejected, perhaps, or lost,
hidden while the lover nervously rehearsed
his lines, then abruptly interrupted,
who knows how, and now distraught,
had no more thought for such
sentiment as this. I never take it off.”
Billy Collins (Editor), “180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day”, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005, ISBN 0812972961.