–Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
The payment always has to be in kind;
easy to forget, traveling in safety,
until the demand comes in.
Do not think him unkind, but begin
to search for the stuff he will accept.
It is not made easy:
a salmon, a marten-skin, a cow’s horn,
a live cricket. Ants have helped me
to sort the millet and barley grains.
I have washed bloodstains from the enchanted shirt.
I left home early
walking up the stony bed
of a shallow river, meaning to collect
the breast-feathers of thousands of little birds
to thatch a house and barn.
It was a fine morning, the fields
spreading out on each side
at the beginning of a story,
steam rising off the river.
I was unarmed, the only bird
a lark singing out of reach:
I looked forward to my journey.