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Once by Eavan Boland


You need to take control of the story you tell yourself, my therapist once told me. Even more so than the story that you tell other people about who you are. 

To be honest, I’ve never really thought of it that way—that I can be in charge of my own narrative. You’d think I’d know a thing or two about telling stories, but I realised I’m pretty much clueless about my own becoming. 

Until now. It took a long time to get here, but I’ve finally caught up. With myself, I mean. And the person I wanted to be. It took a lot of work, and damn don’t I still get sad and feel empty most days—a weight I carry—

Have you ever thought about your own history and the violent push-pull motion of the tectonic plate of events that cracked you wide open? For example: I was in an accident once, which ended up with me standing on an empty avenue at two in the morning with a dislocated shoulder, oblivious to the pain and to the voice of the emergency responder, in a daze, watching the lights of the police car bathe the road. The full, heavy and sharp shock of my bone going back to its socket—my mouth was an open pocket with no sound. For example: I once had a conversation with a white man who is excited about colonising space. We’re made to be conquerors, he said. Don’t you agree?

What I kept close to my chest: how my shoulder hurts when it’s about to rain, as if my body has become a barometer, and would that it can foretell disasters, too. Even just small ones, like heartbreak. 

Being a product of colonisation, the only thing I wish to conquer are my demons, and I’m quite content being a tiny speck in the universe. I do not want to be immortal, only wanted and desired. I do not want the grandeur of the galaxy if I can have the slow days, the ordinary days, the ones that hold me together, the ones which I almost forget existed.  

Do you know what has allowed me to step into my skin and feel like I’m finally myself that I was meant to be? Love.

Eavan Boland

The lovers in an Irish story never had good fortune.
They fled the king’s anger. They lay on the forest floor.
They kissed at the edge of death.

Did you know our suburb was a forest?
Our roof was a home for thrushes.
Our front door was a wild shadow of spruce.

Our faces edged in mountain freshness,
we took our milk in where the wide apart
prints of the wild and never-seen
creatures were set who have long since died out.

I do not want us to be immortal or unlucky.
To listen for our own death in the distance.
Take my hand. Stand by the window.

I want to show you what is hidden in
this ordinary, ageing human love is
there still and will be until

an inland coast so densely wooded
not even the ocean fog could enter it
appears in front of us and the chilled-
to-the-bone light clears and shows us

Irish wolves. A silvery man and wife.
Yellow-eyed. Edged in dateless moonlight.
They are mated for life. They are legendary. They are safe.

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This poem appeared in Against Love Poetry: Poems by Eavan Boland, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Shared here with profound gratitude.

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