The Famine Road

“Idle as trout in light Colonel Jones

these Irish, give them no coins at all; their bones

need toil, their characters no less.”  Trevelyan’s

seal blooded the deal table.  The Relief

Committee deliberated:  “Might it be safe,

Colonel, to give them roads, roads to force

From nowhere, going nowhere of course?”


one out of every ten and then

another third of those again

women – in a case like yours.


Sick, directionless they worked.  Fork, stick

were iron years away; after all could

they not blood their knuckles on rock, suck

April hailstones for water and for food?

Why for that, cunning as housewives, each eyed –

as if at a corner butcher – the other’s buttock.


anything may have caused it, spores

a childhood accident; one sees

day after day these mysteries.


Dusk:  they will work tomorrow without him.

They know it and walk clear.  He has become

a typhoid pariah, his blood tainted, although

he shares it with some there.  No more than snow

attends its own flakes where they settle

and melt, will they pray by his death rattle.


You never will, never you know

but take it well woman, grow

your garden, keep house, good-bye.


“It has gone better than we expected, Lord

Trevelyan, sedition, idleness, cured

in one.  From parish to parish, field to field;

the wretches work till they are quite worn,

then fester by their work.  We march the corn

to the ships in peace.  This Tuesday I saw bones

out of my carriage window.  Your servant Jones.”


Barren, never to know the load

of his child in you, what is your body

now if not a famine road?

– Eavan Boland