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Crossing the Threshold by poet Paula Meehan marks DCU Virtual Graduation
Crossing the Threshold by poet Paula Meehan marks DCU Virtual Graduation
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Crossing the Threshold by poet Paula Meehan marks DCU Virtual Graduation

Acclaimed poet and playwright Paula Meehan pays tribute to nurses in DCU virtual graduation reciting specially commissioned piece “Crossing the Threshold”

Acclaimed poet and playwright Paula Meehan played a special role in DCU’s virtual graduation today (Sat, June 6th) reciting a specially commissioned poem to mark the occasion of 217 students graduating from the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health.

The vast majority of the class of 2020 are currently working on the front-line in the fight against Covid-19 and Meehan’s poem also serves as a tribute to this and the challenges nurses face in the current climate.

Paula Meehan is one of Ireland’s foremost poets and in 2019 DCU paid tribute to her by conferring her with an honorary doctorate. It was awarded in recognition of her extensive literary contribution, including a number of poetry collections.

The Dublin-born poet’s works reflect the local lore and powerful oral traditions of the inner city community where she grew up.

In a beautifully intimate and moving piece, “Crossing the Threshold” recalls her childhood experience of spending three months in a fever hospital and the care she received, in particular, from a nurse called Harriet.

The memories of that time are brought back to life as the coronavirus sweeps the globe.

It prompts her to think of her own nieces, both of whom are nurses and the way in which they are caring for people, in a world utterly changed by Covid-19.

Click here to listen to Paula Meehan on RTÉ Radio One, Arena, Friday, June 5th discuss and recite "Crossing the Threshold"

"Crossing the Threshold"

When I was a girl I spent all of three months

in a fever hospital — a room on my own

far from the city street I lived on.

No visitors allowed but sometimes my mother’s face

at the observation hatch. She sent in a doll

costumed as a nurse in a cap and a cape with a little tin watch

pinned to her chest. And that doll became confidant,

perched on the locker, a patient witness

to my natter and jabber, the long days to endure

and the longer nights when the stars wheeled past my window

and I learned their patterned journeys across the heavens

though not what their journeys portended.

I called her Nurse Harriet after the real nurse who came

to tuck me in, with the last bedpan,

with the last dose of tablets, with the last thermometer,

with the last taking of the pulse, and the chance of a story:

what my doll did in the war, what she did in the Rising,

what she did in the trenches, in the rocket to Mars.

She was hero. She was avatar. In her cap

and her cape and her little tin watch perched on the locker,

taking my measure through the hot winding nights

of sickness and the slow unspooling weeks to wellness.

Those whorled fingertips on the thin skin at my wrist; that cool hand

on my head. I fancy I can hear my own blood

thrumming through my veins. I must have been lonely.

I must have been frightened. It comes back so clearly

this Covid spring wheeling into The Summer of 2020. ***

My nieces are nurses, their beautiful faces

marked and welted by masks and visors,

their word purses full of medical phrases

from the Latin end of the dictionary.

The matter-of-factness of their going out

to night shift or day shift is to me the entirely miraculous.

When I ask what they’d say to you of their lives now,

this: how unnatural to say goodbye

through windows, Facetime, Zoom,

the machines ticking out their cycles; how we find new ways

to hold and be held; how we deepen in mercy,

in kindness. And this is routine! All this is normal!

They step over the threshold, outer to inner, inner to outer,

they ward off the darkness, they are bringers of light

to this world — its dazzling confusions, its crystal certainties.

They open the curtains wide to the bright star of morning

after long night, between one breath and the next,

on a blackbird still praising the earth in her turning.


Pictured Dr Martin McAleese, Chancellor of DCU, Poet and Playwright Paula Meehan and the President of DCU, Professor Brian MacCraith on the occasion of Paula’s honorary conferring, March 2019