For Mary Barter

Roads, no longer dotted with human
corpses rotting by the roadside. Huts,
no longer inhabited by mothers soot-blackened,
stirring shriveled potatoes on the hearth.
The hearth, cold. The story, dust.

Brambled walls fall down stone by stone, their work
done separating one poor farmer from another,
dividing poverty hectare by hectare.
Our connection, Great-Great Grandmother—
a thicket of lost roots.

I walked the unpaved roads
of your past looking stone by stone for you,
but my language had only a few
Celtic words—all I could say— bog, glen, bard
sentence fragments evaporating

like the contrails of this plane
in an indifferent sky. Craggy
coasts disappear. Our story
never to be told; your history—sparse—
hidden in a spare land.

Grandmother, I am Ireland weary,
yet even without you, I will
hold you close,
eat whatever crumbs I can.

The Irish Potato Famine began in 1846. In less than two years, two million Irish—a quarter of the population had died and this became the roots of the Irish Diaspora of which my great-great grandmother was one.

Published in Over a Threshold of Roots, Sandra Larson, Pudding House Chapbook