in honor of immigrants

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us, and so I offer this poem I wrote in honor of those who fled Ireland during difficult times and through dangerous passage.  Though specifics change over time and place, still immigrants everywhere continue to suffer.

My Great-Grandparents’ Ride

It’s all forgotten now, you know.
The coffin ships,
The babies dead in mid-cry.

Young strong men brought down,
Weak with hunger,
No work, no food, no comfort.

Just a scrappy old boat,
Creaking, leaking, smelling
Of all things kind and foul.

Women and children jammed together.
I was there, I saw it.
I rode that boat.

Made it only to New Brunswick.
Saint John, well he must’ve
Been looking out for us.

I’d be a two-boater;
But had no money for the second;
St. John’s as far as we got in my generation.

At least I made it.
A third on the coffin boats
Needed a coffin on the way.

They call it the Potato Famine.
But the potatoes didn’t starve,
We did.

And it wasn’t only natural disaster,
Like you’d think a famine would be.
No, the Brits got help, but not the Irish.

Or not enough help, that’s all. We Irish
Had nothing to do but leave.
Make the dangerous voyage

In unsafe boats, without enough food.
Or stay in Ireland and die there.
Though some say it was God’s providence.

A way of weeding out the bad.
Just let them die, so things will improve.
What kind of God is that?

Now the Green Isle thrives,
America, too. But what of the souls
Who never made it through?

They’re with us still, we rise
On their shoulders, while they swim
Watery graves, and nameless.

Your freedom isn’t food, or comfort
Or jobs. ‘Tis honoring your ancestors
Who through wicked seas,

And harsh gales
Set their dream in a place
Where you might have a fighting chance.

Coffin Ship sculpture at Irish National Famine Memorial, County Mayo, Ireland

Coffin Ship sculpture at Irish National Famine Memorial, County Mayo, Ireland

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