A Ghost In the Throat

Doireann ni Ghriofa.

I can not pronounce the authors name, nor many of the words in this book, but I absorbed it and loved it. An imaginative autobiography and one I didn’t realize was somewhat non-fiction until  chapter 3 when I was compelled to ask: who is this woman? That is where you find it is the telling of her own personal tale. 

The book opens with lists and a continuum of chores that monopolize her day. I was in awe of her ability to manage months of housekeeping with love and of no complaint. The writing is squeezed in right there, part of life. There is a curious desire of constantly wanting to have babies (she has four). I have never felt an inkling of yearning to be a mother and if you had told me the plot of the book, I might have said no I don’t think this is for me. Yet she grabs you in and pulls you to ride alongside her days on a pilgrimage to reassemble an erased historical female poet, one who has only been preserved through word of mouth. Subsequently she finds herself as well along the way. A beautifully written and completely original work. 

I think my favorite passages take place in her new garden. I am writing this in February when I am the strongest of gardeners, wanting what I can not have. No responsibility of watering or weeding. 

I love the garden and the garden loves me, but it isn’t mine, not really. I will always share it with the woman who began it,who arrived in a sun-dress to a newly built councilhouse and cared for this garden all her life. I don’t know where she is now, but her bulbs are buried here. The very first morning that I walked through her garden, her daffodils’ buttery hellos were easily translated, they nodded. I nodded back. 

To work this soil is to sift an archaeology of a stranger’s thought. Each time I find an old bulb or the splinters of a broken cup planted for drainage, I am thankful for her laboour. With every month, more of her flowers lift their heads from the soil, waving polite hellos in pinks and yellows and blues. I don’t know their names, but I think of her in every small acto f weeding and pruning, of watering and fertilising. I pat the earth with gentleness. My nails are always dirty, my palms shovel-blistered, my knees drenched, but I don’t care. I am happy here. In mapping my own additions to this small plot, I choose with care, because I hold a specific desire for this place. I want to lure the bees to me. 

Each new plant I chose is both nectar and pollen-heavy, every clump of coulour designed to bloom as a lure. Here will be sunflowers and snowdrops. I tell my husband, holding his hand tight, and over there, lavender and fuchsia. Our peripheries will hold hedges of hawthorn and hazel, I’ll lure honeysuckle along the walls, and we’ll abandon a fat ribbon of wilderness beyond, in which brambles and dandelions will flourish. It will be so beautiful, I say, and press my smiling lips to his in excitement. I am determined to rewrite the air here until it sings the songs of long ago, I want it rewound and purring with bees.

I frequently think of poetry operating in the same place as painting and this book sits there in that realm, using language as ideas. It was an exquisite surprise since it was recommended by a friend and I was not expecting any of it. 

An aside, she has collaborated with visual artist Otobong Nkanga.

Interview in Bomb about Ghost In the Throat

Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s website.