We come to the coast – broken,
bruised – we reach the edge
of our world. Waves stretch, winds
shift – freedom in the West.
Waked, we want a different,
new beginning. Instead, death clings
like barnacles on our ships.
Anchored in murky holds, this damp womb
through narrow stalls. We knot
in cages, pens – stench and sickness
dock at the harbor.
into cities, towns, we’re strangers
among strangers. Kerchiefs swapped
for aprons, brogues swallowed in shame,
even God is different here.
What do we keep, what to abandon?
Tied to our past, memory beckons.
Nightmares from the Old Country blur
into dream. Ancient enemies –
hunger, poverty – they’re here, too.
Orphans from that old world, our families
become rooted, grow in this one.
How many tides have turned since our fathers,
our mothers crossed the sea,
leaving behind an ocean of graves?
Editor’s Note: See http://www1.assumption.edu/ahc/irish/overview.html about the Irish immigration and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cholera_outbreaks_and_pandemics about the cholera outbreaks.
Image credit: Irish emigrants on shipboard in the River Mersey in Liverpool, England, about to embark for America, c. 1846 (Assumption College, ‘The E Pluribus Unum Project’.)