When the cobbler shop closed in our village
with a hand-written note in the window
and an apology
on a wintry evening,
while crows sat with big shoulders,
their backs turned in the last shiver of light,
I was driven
not to elegy but etymology:
Ceapail perhaps, meaning binding or fettering?
Klabba from the Swedish?
More likely cobolere, to mend shoes.
As if the origin of a word we used
without thinking could help us deal
with what we were about to lose
a small room
gloomy with machines, with
a hand crank and a leather treadle
where I saw a woman standing,
years ago, her paired shoes
in her hands and already
I was placing them in some ideal
where someone said
I’ll make up a bed for you
I could hear the chime
of another childhood: a spare room
perfumed by windfalls in one corner,
porcelain ornaments on a traycloth,
a painting on the wall of a flowered lane
I wanted them to walk down
until they wandered
into the dusk
of another word: this time nostalgia.
The first part of it nostos, meaning
the return home.
Eavan Boland's new volume of poems, A Woman Without a Country, will be published by Norton in November. She teaches at Stanford.