FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
We must acknowledge the Irish are dense,
superstitious; count on God for magic
interventions: pots of gold, good crops,
rents forgiven. One must admit it’s tragic,
them shuffling to the work-house,
with their pack of little monkeys, clinging.
We’re the ones deprived of maids, drivers;
we knew the Irish lack ambition; they can’t
even stay alive.
ELLEN O’CONNOR A BABY DYING
You will always be my babe, my sweet.
I did not see us dying on the same day
in the rain and starving, cold; I did try
to keep you clothed and fed, there was
no way to find sustenance. Or warmth.
I know God will soon visit us, take us
to a place of eternal rest, vast food.
It’s not hard to go; I shall hold you, kiss
your pale face.
FROM THE CORK EXAMINER,
BY JERIMIAH O’CALLAGAN
DAMNING THE GUARDIANS
How dare they call themselves guardians;
men who deny clean water to the poor.
They should see hundreds of the decomposed,
then be forced to say their names; and to pray
they never see their own dead children laid
next to rotting paupers, in the jaws of dogs
and rats. And their ample wives afraid to starve,
tossed in a ditch with the unloved.
More deaths, less relief; the dearth of coffins
and plots have shaken me to the core. Some are
of the belief trap coffins give dignity
to the dead. A hinged box, stuffed with two
or three deceased, is brought to a pit, and bodies
are fed into the earth; then re-used to increase efficient
burial. Poor lads can build only so many each day,
they are weak and scarcely fed.
A FATHER’S CHOICE
A cat has little meat on it; when one is mad from hunger,
anything will do. The father’s choice is brutal. Eat nothing
or eat the poisoned cat. They knew the cruel lord’s men
would soon be at the door to throw them out. It would
have been human to dig them graves in the seized field,
what more could they ask for: a place for their remains.
They are right, the farmers; they hear the fields’
bleating, feel decay with their own hands, cracked
and calloused, the smell of rot. They know yields
are nil, the starving season has them backed against
the wall. They’ve all been driven to madness.
Food grown by the famished is laid waste or pilfered,
shipped to the English who never miss meals.
The widow cannot speak, is always at the mercy
of such men who unearth small growings from her
sparse plot, quite aware that she and five children
will die in cold fall. She watches them dig raw
potatoes out of her patch; praying it would yield
something this time. Who loosed these thugs,
marauding louts, on paupers who have little to nothing.
A CONCERNED READER WRITES
His days were spent starving; his life was deemed
extinct, a miserable creature. His fate was sealed,
being Irish. Pat’s Ma had dreamed her boy would
be safe and fed; not a plate of nettles for his last meal.
He was sawed open by the coroner: who would eat
what sheep eat? This man, a bag of bones clawed
at dirt to loosen roots, having no meat.
A READER DESPISES THE QUEEN
The Famine Queen is so pleased to eat our food, tons
and tons of meat and butter; the Monarch’s
not keen to see our cankered fields, the skin
and bones our children are. We are not her
kind, no fancy tea at four, we do not eat scones;
or anything, having nothing to grow.
HONORA’S MIDDLE DAUGHTER, LIZZIE
Where do we go, our Ma dropping dead right
in front of me eyes? She’s not a wretch or creature,
she’s been a good mother. It might be a crime
to hunt turnips, it’s food for us, not jewels
or cattle, she would never steal from the rich,
just root vegetables. How do we live
without our Ma? Don’t ever split us; we’re one,
not three, she made a vow.
Catherine Harnett is is poet and fiction author. She has published three books of poetry, and her work appears in numerous magazines and anthologies. Sheretired from the federal government and currently lives in Virginia with her daughter. Her short fiction has been published by the Hudson Review and a number of other magazines, including upstreet, the Wisconsin Review, Assisi and Storyscape. Her story, “Her Gorgeous Grief,” was chosen for inclusion in Writes of Passage: Coming-of-Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review, and was nominated for a Pushcart. She can be found at catherineharnett.com