Carmel Cummins was born in Tullagher, Co Kilkenny. A poetry group that evolved from the class given by the American poet Jean Valentine in Kilkenny in 1991 has been the main source of support for her work. Her poetry has been published in Force 10 Broadsheet, Poetry Ireland Review, The Shop Poetry Magazine and The Kilkenny Anthology. She was one of four featured writers in Inkbottle, New Writing from Kilkenny, and has been published in the Kilkenny Broadsheet. In 2009 she collaborated with five visual artists in a public arts project based in Woodstock Gardens, and a series of poems, Woodstock Promenade, was published. In 2010, her prose pieces Field Portraits were part of the collaboration in the Townlands Project, facilitated by artists Alan Counihan and Gypsy Ray. Also in 2010, her poem Three Fears was awarded the Black Diamond Poetry Prize. She lives in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny.
THE WELL FIELD 8.112 acres
It has its face to the sun – sloping gently full south. The shape is a rough rectangle with a turn in the western boundary that makes the higher part of the field slightly wider than the rest.
The well itself was no more than a spring-fed shallow pool on the side of the road from which animals drank – our cows and cattle, Mrs. Lambert’s mare, Paddy Treacy’s donkey, any wandering animal. We worked to make it productive, damming it with stones and grassy clods of earth, over which the water spilled in smooth ribbons. The pool itself then brimmed with clear water, sparkling in the morning; in the afternoon, cool, and shaded by a sycamore. Its every washed stone was worth looking at. It was an ocean on which our boats sailed and failed. In summer we would try to reach across it and press our lips to the source to taste the water’s perfect newness. In dry summers when the pump in the yard failed we used jam-jams to scoop its water into buckets.
Except in the driest summer, the entrance, across the run-off from the well, was mucky, impassable without wellingtons in wet weather. We would swing on the gate to access the drier margins near the ditch.
At one time the lower part beside Fitz’s field was our kitchen garden. It was something of an experiment. I remember no great trust in the outcome, nor even whose idea it was but the early potatoes succeeded, the cabbages filled into firm hearts, the carrots were fly-infested but the onions grew fat, and peas bloomed on tall stick tripods. When the pods filled the peas were eaten from the pod, then with new spuds and butter. The rest, gathered and dried, were put in shoe boxes and stored on the kitchen loft like memories.
Other years, it was tilled for wheat or barley, and we watched its metamorphosis from brown corduroy, to green velvet to golden brocade. We watched sunlight and shadow on it , we watched its reaping. Then a binder with great paddles swept the crop into tidy sheaves, which then required stacking, then drawing home in readiness for the drama of threshing day . The grain was the colour of the autumn sun or of gold.
The stubbled field then became a playground and a good place to start to pick blackberries. We walked by the western boundary then turned the corner into a sheltered area where there were curtains of briars heavy with fruit. Stubble pricked our shins, nettles stung (wellingtons were a good defense but too hot). We persisted. This was business. The sweet cans full, we decanted the berries into old churns and a large vat in the Boiling House, so that the place smelt of wildness, then as the fruit fermented, of something darker. We sold the blue-black lake to Toby Cody for heavy half-crowns. We speculated on its use – dye we were told. Meanwhile the sweetest ones were eaten with milk or their cooking perfumed the kitchen till the jam, cooled and covered , gleamed darkly in jars in the food safe. Through the winter, we tasted summer.