Blight

FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS                     

            5/24/1847       

            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                  

            12/3/ 1848

            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                              

            6/16/ 1847

            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.

            ENDLESS BURIALS                                               

            2/2/1847         

            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                                            

            1847

            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. 

            WARNING

            11/15/1847

            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.

            OUTRAGE                                                                

            1/1/1848

            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         

            2/5/1849

            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        

            10/26/ 1850

            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        

            2/5/1849

            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

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