A Jaw, Ajar


Doireann Ní Ghríofa

cur i gcéill: hypocrisy, bluff, disguise, sham.
“Níl i do chuid cainte ach cur i gcéill” | What you say is mere pretence;
“...a chur i gcéill go bhfuil spéis sa Ghaeilge agat” | to profess oneself to be interested in Irish;
“Níl ann ach cur i gcéill.” | It is mere acting.

you hold a jaw
-bone so old
that the chin has split.

A professor passes samples
of bone around, explains:
remains — derelict workhouse —
Famine-era — a mass grave.

He rattles a transparent plastic bag.
Inside, a clatter of speechless teeth,
a broken grin. He says, a generous
selection of fragments
, says 
incremental dentine collagen analysis,
says to pinpoint when starvation set in.

Suppose you hold the empty jaw bone still,
two neat halves, one in each hand, the pale bone
cool in your palms, three teeth still tucked
into their sockets, snug as heifers
working cud in some distant meadow.

Suppose you hold those jaw bones together
and see it not as a broken, inanimate object
but full, skinned, a stubbled chin, a cheek
that lived, that was patted, kissed, hit,

and between those bones, a mouth 
that only ever knew the spit and speech of one
warm, wet tongue. Suppose you hold this split
jaw bone to your ear and imagine you hear
all he spoke, every sound from his throat.

These bones date to a time and a region
where only Irish was spoken. Holding it, you
want to return to it some of the words that once
resonated through its hollows, but your voice catches
in your throat, as though something inside you
is broken. Suppose the professor approaches,
smiling, as always, says This is the mandible.

What would you call that in Gaelic?
You stare at him, bones in hand, your jaw ajar.
Suppose you stutter, your mouth fails. You try 
to say corrán géill, but the only sound from
your mouth is cur i gcéill.