Gypsy Girl, Maynooth, Ireland

My children are dirty around the mouth
and hands. I see the way you notice,
walking by, eyes sideways.
Trying not to mind.

I’m watching through the window
of the caravan. A weak square of light
pushes out into the twilight,
though it’s only three o’clock.
We’re that far north.

You never see me, do you,
but you think you know me.
Because you see my man gathering shards
and scraps of metal near the train tracks

in his black bent hat, and my children
gathering coins in the pubs.
They fold their grubby fingers over
each one like a pearl.

I know they look feverish to you
but that’s just how we are, my people:
High color in our cheeks, eyes too bright
from so much asking.

Once you saw me when we were both girls.
On the sidewalk, you were holding
your father’s hand. I was holding mine
out flat and open. Calling out my own poetry,
asking for his pocket change.

Now you call me Gypsy, Tinker.
I watch you through my postcard window.
We’re the same age more or less I’d say,
but I have a woman’s wisdom now
and you are still a thinker.

Poet's note: This poem looks back to my sophomore year in college, which I spent studying abroad in Ireland. There were a few families of what the Irish call Tinkers, or Gypsies, living on the edges of Maynooth, the town where I lived. I remember coming face to face with a young woman about my age in years, but much older and wiser than I in experience, or so I imagined. This poem was inspired by that encounter. (If you wonder where Maynooth is, look here).

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