Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill


The following poems were translated by Paul Muldoon and published in The Fifty Minute Mermaid by Gallery Press in November 2007.



Mo Mháistir Dorcha

Táimse in aimsir ag an mBás,
eadrainn tá coinníollacha tarraichthe.
Réitíomair le chéile are feadh tréimhse is spás
aimsire, achar roinnt bliana is lae mar a cheapas-sa.

Bhuaileas leis ag margadh na saoire.
D’iarr sé orm an rabhas hire-áilte.
‘Is maith mar a tharla; máistir ag lorg cailín
is cailín ag lorg máistir.’

Ní rabhas ach in aois a naoi déag
nuair a chuas leis are dtúis faoi chonradh.
Do shíneas mo láimh leis an bpár
is bhí sé láithreach ina mhargadh.

Do chuir sé chrúcaí im’ lár
cé nar thug sé brútáil ná drochíde orm.
Ba chosúla le greas suirí nó grá
an caidreamh a bhí eadrainn.

Is tugaim a tháinte dubha chun abhann,
buaibh úd na n-adharca fada.
Luíonn siad síos i móinéir.
Bím á n-aoireacht ar chnoic san imigéin
atá glas agus féarach.

Seolaim are imeall an uisce iad
is gaibheann siad scíth agus suaimhneas.
Treoraím lem’ shlat is lem’ bhachall iad
trí ghleannta an uaignis.

Is siúlaim leo suas ar an ard 
mar a mbíonn sciollam na móna le blaiseadh acu
is tagann míobhán orm i mbarr an mháma
nuair a chím faid mo radhairc uaim ag leathadh

a thailte is méid a ríochta,
an domhan mór ba dhóigh leat faoina ghlaic aige
is cloisim sa mhodardhoircheacht bhróin
na hanamnacha ag éamh is ag sioscadh ann.

Is tá sé féin saibhir thar meon.
Tá trucailí óir agus seoda aige.
Ní bheadh I gcarn airgid Déamair
ach cac capaill suas leo.

Ó táimse in aimsir ag an mbás,
is baolach ná beidh mé saor riamh uaidh.
Ní heol dom mo thuarastal ná mo phá
nó an bhfaighidh mé pá plaic’ nó cead aighnis uaidh.





My Dark Master



Translated by Paul Muldoon

I’ve gone and hired myself out, I’ve hired myself out to
     Death.
We drew up a contract and set the seal
on it by spitting in our palms. I would go with him to 
     Lateeve
for a year and a day—at least, that was the deal

as I remember it. When I met him at the hiring-fair
he inquired if I’d yet
been taken: ‘What a stroke of luck,’ he declared,
‘when a master who’s set on a maid finds a maid who’s set

on a master.’ I was only nineteen years old 
at the time the bargain was struck.
I made my mark on a bit of paper and was indentured
on the spot. What a stroke of luck,

I declare, what a stroke of luck that I fell
into his clutches. Not, I should emphasize again,
that he meddled with or molested me for, to tell
you the truth, our relationship was always much more akin

to walking out, or going steady. I lead his blue-black cows
with their fabulously long horns
to water. They lie down in pastures of clover and fescue
and Lucerne. I follow them over hills faraway and green.

I lead them down beside Lough Duff
where they find rest and where they are restored.
I drive them with my rod and my staff
through the valleys of loneliness. Then I might herd

them to a mountain-pass, to a summit
where they browse on bog-asphodel and where I, when I 
look down, get somewhat dizzy. His realm extends as far as the eye

can see and beyond, so much so
a body might be forgiven for thinking the whole
world’s under his sway. Particularly after the sough-sighs
of suffering souls

from the darkness. He himself has riches that are untold,
coming down as he is with jewels and gems.
Even John Damer of Shronel, even his piles of gold
would be horse-shit compared to them.

I’ve hired myself out to death. And I’m afraid that I’ll not 
ever be let go. What I’ll have at the end of the day
I’ve absolutely no idea, either in terms of three hots and a cot
íor if I’ll be allowed to say my say.





Cuimhne an Uisce



Uaireanta nuair a bhíonn a hiníon
sa seomra folctha
ag glanadh a fiacla le slaod tiubh
is le sód bácála,
tuigtear di go líonann an seomra suas
le huisce.

Tosnaíonn sé ag a cosa is a rúitíní
is bíonn sé ag slibearáil suas is suas arís
thar a másaí is a cromáin is a básta.
Ní fada 
go mbíonn sé suas go dtí na hioscaidí uirthi.
Cromann sí síos ann go minic ag piocadh suas
rudaí mar thuáillí láimhe nó ceirteacha
atá ar maos ann.
Tá cuma na feamnaí orthu—
na scothóga fada ceilpe úd a dtugaidís
‘gruaig mhaighdean mhara’ nó ‘eireabaill mhadraí rua’ orthu.
Ansan go hobann téann an t-uisce i ndísc
is ní fada
go mbíonn an seomra iomlán tirim arís.

Tá strus uafásach
ag roinnt leis na mothúcháin seo go léir.
Tar éis an tsaoil, níl rud ar bith aici
chun comparáid a dhéanamh leis.
Is níl na focail chearta ar eolas aici ar chor ar bith.
Ag a seisiún síciteiripeach seachtainiúil
bíonn a dóthain dua aici
ag iarraidh an scéal aisteach seo a mhíniú
is é a chur in iúl i gceart
don mheabhairdhochtúir.

Níl aon téarmaíocht aici,
ná téarmaí tagartha
ná focal ar bith a thabharfadh an tuairim is lú
do cad é ‘uisce’.
‘Lacht trédhearcach,’ a deir sí, ag déanamh a cruinndíchill.
‘Sea,’ a deireann an teiripí, ‘coinnibh ort!’
Bíonn sé á moladh is á gríosadh chun gnímh teangan.
Deineann sí iarracht eile.
‘Slaod tanaí,’ a thugann sí air,
í ag tóraíocht go cúramach i measc na bhfocal.
‘Brat gléineach, ábhar silteach, rud fliuch.’





A Recovered Memory of Water



Sometimes when the mermaid’s daughter
is in the bathroom
cleaning her teeth with a thick brush
and baking soda
she has the sense the room is filling
with water.

It starts at her feet and ankles
and slides further and further up
over her thighs and hips and waist.
In no time
it’s up to her oxters.
She bends down into it to pick up
handtowels and washcloths and all such things
as are sodden with it.
They all look like seaweed—
like those long strands of kelp that used to be called
‘mermaid-hair’ or ‘foxtail.’
Just as suddenly the water recedes
and in no time
the room’s completely dry again.

A terrible sense of stress
is part and parcel of these emotions.
At the end of the day she has nothing else
to compare it to.
She doesn’t have the vocabulary for any of it.
At her weekly therapy session
she has more than enough to be going on with
just to describe this strange phenomenon
and to express it properly
to the psychiatrist.

She doesn’t have the terminology
or any of the points of reference
or any word at all that would give the slightest suggestion 
as to what water might be.
‘A transparent liquid,’ she says, doing as best she can.
‘Right,’ says the therapist, ‘keep going.’
He coaxes and cajoles her towards word-making.
She has another run at it.
‘A thin flow,’ she calls it,
casting about gingerly in the midst of the words.
‘A shiny film. Dripping stuff. Something wet.’





Fáidhiúlacht na Murúiche



Tá smaoineamh éigin fós ina ceann
cé nach féidir léi é a chur i bhfoclaibh.
‘An leaid óg sin arís—ní féidir liom
cuimhneamh ar a ainm—tá sé—’
(sos beag anseo agus creathán ina láimh)
‘tá sé—tá sé—
tá sé in áit dhorcha.’

Cé tá i gceist aici? Mo mhac? 
M’fhear céile? Nó duine éigin eile den gclann?
Nó an bhfuil sí, ar leibhéal éigin
ag trácht uirthi féin?

Bhí sí riamh domhain.
Ach anois tá sí ag labhairt aníos chughainn
as tobar gan tóin.





The Mermaid’s Gift of Prophecy



Translated by Paul Muldoon

There’s some idea at the back of her mind
she just can’t put into words.
‘That young fellow out there—I don’t seem
to be able to recall his name—he’s—he’s—
(a small break here while her hand shakes)
he’s in a dark place.’

Who does she mean? My son?
My husband? Or some other member of the family?
Or is she, at some other level,
referring to herself?

She was always deep.
But now she seems to be talking up to us
from a bottomless well.