Poem 7: 3/16/01



Eileen Hickey
County Roscommon,

O Blessed Mother, come visit me
below the turf
here in this rude scalpeen
like the stable where you bore
your sweet son.

Since the eviction
we are like potatoes ourselves,
sleeping underground,
white below our dirty skins.
We've not seen sun
these twenty weeks.

As a girl, I listened when me Ma showed
how to shear and spin and weave.
I could make a cloak
from sheep to churchgoing,
knit a pretty cardigan.
But I thought me Ma a bore
when she taught me potato farming.
Dig the trench deep. Lay the eyes.
Hill the roots to keep the taters white –
the green ones sicken you.
When little purple flowers come in summer,
the new crop has begun to grow
beneath the earth. At harvest time,
put me spade in at the side
so the taters won't be cut and spoiled.
I thought, so much dirt,
it's just food – it doesn't last.

But Ma didn't know then.
We never saw until forty-five the white
mist that brought the blight,
then white down upon the leaves,
then the whole field turning black,
then all the fields on all the hills
black and dead.

That first year, we sold barley, chairs,
and even our beds for rent,
for the Indian corn the English let us buy
until they turned out Mr. Peel –
too generous to the Irish.
The second year, we sold barley
and, finally, our shoes.

Blessed Mother, now I know the sorrows
of your heart, how you cried to lose
your Son, since my little Tommy died.
My red-haired baby,
the one who looked like me,
he couldn't lift his cheek
from my shoulder at the end.
Only a babe of six months,
but never laughed, never grew fat.
like my Sheila at that age.
Now I fear for her and little Danny,
so thin and white,
the hunger took away their crying.
They might slip away from fever
like Ma last year.

And Johnny – Johnny mostly looks away,
a skeleton of the man he was,
a barrel chest and arms thick with muscles
when we married in forty-one.

I've never seen the landlord
but I have seen his cows
and I wish I was a fat brown cow
so I could eat grass and maize and hay
and give yellow milk full of butter
to my little ones.

O sweet Mary, make me holy
and God will spare me children
and take them away
to Canada, Amerikay,
anyplace to give them cheeks of roses,
anyplace where only peat is black
and hills always green
in summer.

© Elise Rose

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