Bernadette Hall

(Alexandra)

Famine


i.
A slate step, a brass knocker, the old
forgotten greeting, failte. I thought the stories
were a true map of the landscape by which
I might remember how to read the tribal colours
painted on the lamp-posts, the pinched face
of the man on the bottom rung. It was strange how much
Strabane was like the Taieri, that one black
headstone out on its own, ‘The burying ground
of the Colhouns!' And at that very moment
the wild geese flew over, two strings of them,
one from the right hand side of my head and one
from the left, cleft whakapapa. And that's when I
remembered what Cassandra said as I was leaving,
‘You will find your own famine in Ireland.'

ii.
My mother's great-great-grandfather strikes
my father's great-great-grandfather in the face
with his fist and my mother's great-grandfather
stabs my father's great-grandfather in the chest
with a pitchfork. Broken harvest.
Then my mother's favourite uncle lays about
my father's favourite uncle with a club, we
womenfolk screaming for blood as he pushes
his head down under the water. I have added
my stone to the stones of the others, casting
them down from the bridge. Then I washed
my hands, thank God, of the lot of them,
stole the family horse and on the proceeds,
took my message of peace way down to the Antipodes.

iii.
There are flockings across the continent, thousands
of hawks, and here I am with my face uplifted
in Coralville, standing next to Suchen
in the middle of the street in the middle of the wide
Midwest, the heavy, slow-spoken pilgrims
plodding past to McDonald's. When they ask me
to establish home, I conjure two Paradise
ducks in a rough paddock, the hills lined up
like the backs of quiet animals. In the caves
behind the Mayflower, runaway slaves
hid out - ‘If I harbour you will you harbour
me?' Sweet Honey in the Rock at the Hancher
Stadium. Chickasaw girl stomp-dancing in
Dubuque. There's never been a famine in Iowa.

Submitted: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Edited: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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