Wildflowers Left to Live on Knocknarea

By Gibbons Ruark
First Published in Ploughshares, the Literary Journal of Emerson College

After a night of rain like a waterfall,
The stony lane that winds up Knocknarea
Is a runnel of swift water winding downward.
You should wear your Wellingtons and carry a stick.
The stones are slippery and the dog at the gate
Is fierce and requires a cheerful word in passing.

The way up is steep and then steeper and turns
On itself to give you again and again
The whole blue bay where it rummages the valley.
Nearing the top, the lane is nothing but a gully
Of wildflowers where you stretch for every foothold.
When, having stopped for breath, you can lift your eyes,

That stone shape just beginning to clear the high
Horizon is a queen's grave or nothing but stones.
Just over the final ridge, you can see it whole
At last, tired out and your breath entirely vanished,
So you simply sprawl out headlong in the heather
In an attitude a stranger might take for prayer.

But you are alone on the windy mountaintop.
North of the lighthouse are Rosses Point and the cliffs
Of Donegal. South and wild are the Mayo mountains.
If only the mist would lift you could see five counties,
But the low sky returns you to the near at hand.
There, nesting in the heather, you may uncover

The delicate wild blue harebell of Knocknarea.
If I know you, you will want to look at it long
And dream you can breathe the air it breathes forever,
Which is only to dream you can hold your breath forever
And not give in to the slow intake and exhalation
That keep you moving, even if your only way

Is the watery lane back down the mountainside.
The wind swings northward and cold. The mist is lifting.
It is high time you were picking your way downward.
Look for the blossoming ditch that brought you there.
Look. There is the spring gentian, there the small wild thyme.
Your turn has come to leave them there for another.

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