|If I use my forbidden hand
To raise a bridge across the river,
All the work of the builders
Has been blown up by sunrise.
A boat comes up the river by night
With a woman standing in it,
Twin candles lit in her eyes
And two oars in her hands.
She unsheathes a pack of cards,
‘Will you play forfeits?’ She says.
We play and she beats me hands down,
And she puts three banns upon me:
Not to have two meals in one house,
Not to pass two nights under one roof,
Not to sleep twice with the same man
Until I find her. When I ask her address,
‘If it were north I’d tell you south,
If it were east, west.’ She hooks
Off in a flash of lightning, leaving me
Stranded on the bank,
My eyes full of candles,
And the two dead oars.
This is a translation of Geasa, by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill. The poem is from Pharaoh’s Daughter by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, 1990, Gallery Press (Editor Peter Fallon). With thanks to Gallery Press for permission to reproduce here.