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Monday, September 7, 2015

My First Ireland



Standing on
the western edge,
walled with rock and green,
the ocean silver patched,
bleeds into
a rain-swelled sky.
Across a blurred sea
there’s Boston.
Ancestors, traveled there
sailing on hope,
knobbed bones,
washboard ribs
steerage passengers
stacked like cordwood,
coffin berths.
Are we not all made of
sinew? Tissue?
Down-covered swells
of sweet tasting flesh?
And yet,
the stench of rotting fields.
An ocean filled with fish,
“our own” forbidden
from casting a net.
Ships packed with export,
but a shilling
for a starving man
to build a needless wall.

Standing in this place,
I think about bellies.
Cold caves of want.
Families. Boys, girls,
babes gone before speech,
a father
faced with non-choice, 
eviction or
“assisted” immigration.
And so, my ancestors,
maybe yours,
crawled onto a boat,
departed desperation,
staggered to a foreign place,
made of themselves,
carried on.

Lifetimes later,
I look out from
this western edge,
stomach full,
and wordless.


This has gnawed at me since I studied the potato famine in 11th grade.  Standing on soil where it actually happened, well, I guess, made an impression...

12 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That they were desperate enough to risk possible death on the ocean to reach a new opportunity...
Very powerful, Liza.

mshatch said...

I can't imagine what a horrible journey it must've been and then to arrive in a new country, to have to start a new life with nothing...Those were some brave and desperate people.

Bish Denham said...

It was a terrible time. But as always, humans have this uncanny ability to survive, to continue on, to LIVE!

Great poem.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

There is so much history there and it's so interesting. Traveling to Ireland is one of my dreams.

Susan Says

Joanne said...

You captured the yearning and soul of immigration. Ireland to Boston back in the day. And now read present day headlines - people trying to seek shelter, safety, food, and a chance......a chance to live as humanly as possible. Heart wrenching words - well done

Gail said...

My Irish ancestors came here during this famine. English and German came later. My English great grandmother was five when she crossed to American and was such an ornery child she used to tell my dad stories of the sailors dangling her overboard by one foot, threatening to throw her into the sea. We blended with the Cherokee here and those are my grandparents'direct lineage. It it sad when we run out of welcome and the ability to help.

Very good write.

Thanks for your kind comment.

Daisy said...

Powerful poem. You really captured the emotional side of this part of history.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

There are so many parts of history that once you dig deep in them they can overwhelm your heart. Well done!

Pixel Peeper said...

Your poem reminds me of the book I'm currently reading (Orphan Train) and how desperately poor immigrants from Ireland were.

Good timing, too, in light of the current refugee situation in Europe.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You did exactly what you set out to do with this poem, because as I was reading it, it was very clear that you were trying to evoke thoughts of the potato famine, and the desperate straits of the immigrants. Great job!

My father and his parents immigrated to this country from Scotland in 1922, and my poor grandmother was deathly seasick the whole voyage over.

Carol Kilgore said...

Most of our ancestors made a similar journey if they arrived here before air travel. Most were desperately seeking a home. I think your poem should be required reading, lest we forget. Just excellent.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Every immigrant has a story. My husband (Poland) and myself (Ireland) are both second generation. He grew up with both his grandparents and heard all the stories of their trip here. I wish I had had that opportunity.

You poem captures many of their stories.