Homeless Grace


Poem for Grace Farrell (1976–2011)

A thin column in the newspaper; she died in an alcove
Outside Saint Brigid's Church. She was from Wicklow.
She had been an artist. She came here at age seventeen.
She drank. She married a man who slept on the avenue,
Not near the church. He didn't like the church and said
That the church talked to him at night in a stern rumble.
He beat her. Her friends on the street beat him and told
Him to stay away from her. Her alcove had a roof on it,
In a sense, as there was a construction scaffold above it.
The folks like us — nobody knows us until we are dead,
Said a friend of hers on the street. Her family in Ireland
Accepted her body, from the medical examiner's office.
We told them that she was homeless, but they chose not
To believe that, said the examiner. Her name was Grace.
So that's the end of the article. But what if that's not the
End at all? What if the old church spoke to Grace Farrell
That night, held her in its southern arm, sang very gently
To her as she died, caught her spirit as it hit the scaffold,
And handed it up, weeping for the sweet broken woman?
Couldn't that be? Couldn't it be that we don't know who
She was and wanted to be, and maybe she was a wonder?
That could be. Maybe she was what she was invited to be.
Maybe her soul said yes to pain in this world to save kids
Somewhere else. Maybe she was brave in ways we never
Will know now. Every time I think I know something for
Sure I get the gift of not being sure at all; isn't that grace?

Mrs Simmons says

That the question do animals go to heaven is a silly question,
And that the reverse is the question to be asked — can people
Ever achieve the blunt holy unselfish nature of other species?
She asks this with an artful artlessness as she wraps an order:
A meat pie, made from one creature that never killed another,
As she says. Though surely the cow mowed the sentient grass.
Did you think that the grass was not alert to the lovely world?
Surely it was, sensing the sun, sucking water and the minerals
Below, what there were of them, old Australia, we're a desert
With a scraggy green rim, is what it is. Now when I was a girl,
She says, longer ago than you can conceive, I thought we may
Be speeding up evolutionarily, what with the War fresh in our
Minds, a terror that nicked everyone in the world, and animals
Too, people forget this, but such has not proven to be the case;
However I do still believe that we will someday perhaps arrive
At the unselfconscious nature of other creatures — we've had it
All backwards, that we were all advanced and them not so; but
People kill people for reasons other than food — how advanced
Is that? So history books are the stories of how not evolved we
Are, as yet. Now did you want coffee with that? A long black?

The pearl

The lesson I remember clearest from college?
When a girl named Melita, draped in a towel,
Emerged just after dawn from the dorm room
Of a guy we called Bimbo. That was a shock.
She was a goddess, and he was as advertised.
She smiled politely and vanished. I discussed
This for days with my friends; how could this
Be? How could such a thing actually happen?
She was a goddess and Bimbo was serpentine.
Maybe she wanted to reach as low as possible,
Said one friend of mine. Maybe it's like a test
Of some sort for girls. Maybe she went insane
For a night from being a goddess, said another.
Maybe it's hard to be normal if you're like her.
Maybe she wanted to see what stupid feels like.
No question stupid felt like Bimbo — but it was
Bimbo feeling her that had us reeling for days.
Sure, all these years later I think it could be we
Were wrong about him, perhaps he was a great
Guy, gentle and alert, and we just didn't see it,
Or she was a sham and a fool, a confident shell
Hiding mere wind, or perhaps a frightened girl;
I mean, it's very probable that we, or really me,
Were utterly mistaken, as I have almost always
Proven myself to be; but maybe not, and Melita
Emerging like a pearl from Bimbo's dank grasp
Was a thorough lesson about how most of what
You know you actually don't; whatever you are
Sure of, don't be, and maybe then we will learn;
Something like that. Perhaps knowing what you
Don't know is the road to knowing what you do.

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. 

Topic tags: new australian poems, Brian Doyle, Grace Farrell, Mrs Simmons says, The Pearl



submit a comment

Existing comments

thanks brian; stunning poems.

louise | 02 August 2011  

Grace: there are violets too, and tiny bush orchids which flower in hiden places; their beauty neither glimpsed nor appreciated by human eyes.......

pirrial | 02 August 2011  

Thanks Brian from me too. I liked these very much

Stephen | 02 August 2011  

Thank you to Brian Doyle for these poems. I worked a lot with the homeless in my working life and I totally agree - we can never make assumptions. I still have contact with some who I was involved with in my working life and they are good for me

margaret o'reilly | 02 August 2011  

Thank you Brian. I really liked Homeless Grace. Few of us come to know such people so we very often miss out on recognising grace.

Margaret McDonald | 02 August 2011  

I love them too

denise | 02 August 2011  

Dear Brian, Thanks for stretching my way of seeing things. I loved them all, especially the last one. How do we know what we think we know after all?

Jean SIetzema-DIckson | 05 August 2011  

Similar Articles

Heroes and villains are only human

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 10 August 2011

For those who seek role models at the multiplex, through the polarised lenses of a pair of cheap 3-D glasses, Green Lantern contains two types worth considering. One is 'the villain I hope I'm not'. The other is 'the hero that I could be'. 


My life as a bully

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 04 August 2011

We passed Paul's house each day on the walk to primary school. One day on a whim we knocked and invited him to join us. Once out of sight around the corner we proceeded to berate him, and to rough him up. We thought it was such fun that we did it again the next day. Kids can be cruel. I'm ashamed to say I was.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up