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.