A Grafted Tongue


Bloodied, the severed

head now chokes to

speak another tongue:–


As in

a long suppressed dream,

some stuttering, garb—

led ordeal of my own)


An Irish

child weeps at school

repeating its English.

After each mistake


The master

gouges another mark

on the tally stick

hung about its neck


Like a bell

on a cow, a hobble

on a straying goat.

To slur and stumble


In shame

the altered syllables

of your own name;

to stray sadly home


And find

the turf cured width

of your parent’s hearth

growing slowly alien:


In cabin

and field, they still

speak the old tongue.

You may greet no one.


To grow

a second tongue, as

harsh a humiliation

as twice to be born.


Decades later,

that child’s grandchild’s

speech stumbles over lost

syllables of an old order.

– John Montague