The Saturday Poem: The Walk from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge

A new poem by Patricia McCarthy

Starving peasants clamour at the gates of a workhouse during the Great  Famine in 1846. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Starving peasants clamour at the gates of a workhouse during the Great Famine in 1846. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Wind-warped we slither over the hard gums
of a region whose crooked, impacted teeth of marble
ground over a territory famished, still, for growth.
Only rhododendrons, potentilla, Irish Spurge

and mombresia have escaped the walled gardens
of a demesne to mock, in a decorative frieze,
pot-holed bohreens hacked out for the transportation

of fodder. Echoes of eight hundred blistered, bare,
staggering feet patter too light a rhythm
to the driving rain which pelts down its grave-stones.
We can but watch for spectral skeletons

to wave their rags and threads, to rattle a gold coin
from a stocking, a cloak, or to bribe with geese: as if
we are not witnesses but paid Vice-Guardians.

With a deserved guilt, we follow a fraction
of the trudge from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge.
We forbid ourselves to wade in the Glankeen River
under toppling hills, to dream of wild salmon

stolen by the Colonel and the English gentleman
whose barred Georgian door caused the cottiers
to die where they stood, faster than by any gun.

A few stick-figure girls: Catherine Grady,
Mary McHale, Honor Dillon
possessed names
at least that can surface from anonymous sandbanks
and sloughs to be engraved upon the coffins

of their thoughts. Such twisted dominion
stole the heart out of the people more than fears
of granite jaws clamped over the bitter vision.

Patricia McCarthy is editor of Agenda (agendapoetry.co.uk) and won the British National Poetry Competition 2013. Her most recent collection is Letters to Akhmatova. A new volume, Rockabye, is due from Worple Press in 2018