Vinegar Hill By Colm Tóibín

The town reservoir on the hill
Was built in the twenties.
If you lifted a round metal covering
And dropped a stone, you could

Hear it plonk into the depths.
There were small hollows in the rocks
That, no matter how dry the weather,
Were filled with rainwater.

These rock pools must have been here
With different water in them
That summer when the rebels
Fled toward Needham’s Gap.

From the hill, as the croppies did,
You can view the town, narrow
Streets even narrower, and more
Trees and gardens than you imagined.

It was burning then, of course,
But now it is quiet. There is,
In the Market Square, a monument
To Father Murphy and the Croppy Boy.

We can see the hill from our house.
It is solid rock in the mornings
As the sun appears from just behind it.
It changes as the day does.

My mother is taking art classes
And, thinking it natural to make
The hill her focal point,
Is trying to paint it.

What color is Vinegar Hill?
How does it rise above the town?
It is humped as much as round.
There is no point in invoking

History. The hill is above all that,
Intractable, unknowable, serene.
It is in shade, then in light,
And often caught between.

When the blue becomes gray
And fades more, the green glistens,
And then not so much. The rock also
Glints in the afternoon light,

Which dwindles, making the glint disappear.
Then there is the small matter of clouds,
Which make tracks over the hill in a smoke
Of white, as though instructed

By their superiors to break camp.
They change their shape, crouch down,
Stay still, all camouflage, dreamy,
Lost, with no strategy to speak of,

Yet resigned to the inevitable:
When the wind comes for them, they will retreat.
Until this time, they are surrounded by sky
And can, as yet, envisage no way out.

Published in the print edition of the March 28, 2022, issue. Colm Tóibín published his tenth novel, “The Magician,” in 2021. His first poetry collection, “Vinegar Hill,” is forthcoming this spring.

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