Thursday, April 17, 2014

On the Irish side...

These poems were previously published by Sheldon Lee Compton in Revolution John magazine. Someday they will be in a new book of poems about people and places I've discovered while researching my family's ancestors. I do believe we are all cousins and that we might as well get along, eh?

"On a Lee Shore"  Winslow Homer 1900

The Liverpool census in 1851 lists him:
“Thirteen years old, Irish. Occupation: beggar.”
Only that. I will do more for him.

I will see him in torn jacket and too-short pants
singing all day of the sea, the cliffs, the rivers
Shannon and Liffey, the lass who died too soon.
I will give him a pure tenor and a brother clicking bones,
keeping time while he’s tuned to the doings in the street,
his freezing feet, his big brother’s sweet, hungry voice.
Two stevedore’s march past, heading for work on the docks.
Their clothes gray and their caps grimy, they’re tired, silent
men who have no time, money, or even a listen to give them.

Here is a man coming through in a well-cut coat,
and his hat is a gentleman’s hat. The boys eye him
slow down and stop. Sure, but he’s English
thinks the singer and the rhythm of the bones
never falter though the player is thinking of boots.
They finish their tune, stand, stare, and wait.
“I’m a music teacher and I thank you for your music.”
He smiles, opens his purse, and hands them coins.
“Get some food, go home, rest your fingers, rest your voice.”
The Englishman walks on and the beggars are done for the day.

The census taker’s fine script hurled itself at me; his facts smashed something too soft in me, but I’ve caught these boys,
given them music and food. Tomorrow I’ll give them warmth.

Strength & Luck

There was no food in Ireland for young Patrick Kennedy who'd known nothing of blooming. So he crossed the wintry sea in a bucking, groaning boat to Liverpool. Once the damn ship docked in sloppy, exhausted triumph, Patrick was shoved and hurried to join the mass of his countryman lost in the dirty alleys snaking from the docks. English churchwomen met them with bread and jugs of weak ale. There was more food if he worked and he would not go without food again so Patrick, who'd been a farmer, became a stevedore, all the while hating coal-smothered Liverpool, and hated by the English working alongside him. When he'd had enough of the place and the place had had enough of him he boarded The City of Manchester, a ship bound to New York, or so he'd heard. The voyage was 49 days of hell, the only good being the end of it. Patrick's skinny self stayed free of the typhus that forced quarantine on those it didn't kill. When he stumbled down the gangplank the recruiting man grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him onto a cart belonging to the Union Army and he survived the Civil War, too.  Because Patrick Kennedy went through all that and lived to have a family with Catherine McCarthy I am here to write these things down about my great-great grandfather, born in Cork, Ireland in 1836, dead in New York in 1877.