Mudlark Flash No. 95 (2015)

Out of the Depths
Poems by Liz Dolan

After I Was Raised | The Great Hunger, 1848
What A Coffin Ship Survivor Will Never Tell Her Son, 1848
An Antidote to Grief | My Eighty-Year-Old Mother
Takes On the Black and Tan
| After Hiroshima | Trapped

After I Was Raised

                         John 11
Sweaty hands touch my garments 
as I scoop water from the well. No one understands:
the voluptuousness of the sun, the scent 
of breeding women, copper-colored. The chickens
pecking at my toes, the cacophony of chatter 
the busybodies the visitors 
with their mitzvahs and challah. Still
Martha clucks about me like a brood hen
oiling my skin, clipping my nails. 
And her endless braying 
about Jesus, Jesus... Kneeling I speak 
of the unredeemed souls 
I have seen. Tiny cymbals din. 
The voice of another rises
in my throat. 

The Great Hunger, 1848

Cushla, ere long I will become pure 
light as will the bairn whose cry 
withers the very words I speak.  
Place her then in the crook of my arm. 
Under the tile by the fire 
find a few shillings. Take 
my shoes, my wedding ring.
God is good. Traverse the Tullaree Road. 
If you come upon bread
bless it, break it...
Mother, when the tide turns 
to the wind the great roaring 
will whip through the bracken
and crack the willow’s skin.
’Tis not this day I’ll be going surely.
God is Good? Not as good as thee, 
beloved. Here, I’ll warm thy hands and feet 
with oil and scent, cushion the baby’s head 
against your milk-spent breast.
’Tis tears enough we’ve spilled this day.
Wisha, last night I beheld yourself  
astride a white mare with a silver mane 
hurling a gelid star against the moon.

What A Coffin Ship Survivor Will Never Tell Her Son, 1848

How they shipped the barrels of grain from Cork 
while our tongues swolled, how they muzzled 

our language ’til those scorched tongues 
sputtered nothing but blather. An orphan’s haven

they christened the empty granary where we, 
who could still lift, piled up the childer’s bodies 

one atop the other like leaves in the Book of Kells. 
The stench of too many bodies in such a small place.

So his family could die unviewed, our neighbor, 
Fitzhugh, boarded them up in the cottage 

we helped him sod. For a lick of piss poor soup 
we forsook the old gods and became High Church.  

True, the Atlantic was a bowl of bitter tears. 
What matter? Our souls already flapped 

like tattered sails. Our lips blistered, 
our gums bled. On the edges of Manhattan, 

we searched like rabid dogs for all we’d lost. 
But, daughter, this I will tell you: 

a shank’s mare from here sheep speckle green hills 
spotted with Fairy Thimbles. At least 

we have work and store-boughten bread
and of an odd Sunday maybe a bit of beef.

Though shrill cries still poison my sleep, 
I can still recall the auld poems 

and isn’t that an Inishkillen sky lumpy and gray
threatening with God’s good rain? 

An Antidote to Grief

Starved with the cold, 
frizzy-haired Aunt Tess,
shadowed by her raggle-taggle toddlers , 
sweeps into our Bronx kitchen
on a Sunday morning after Mass 
clutching bags of flaky seeded rolls 
and donuts oozing raspberry jelly. 

She thrums her fingers on the table, 
A cup of tea and a tune, 
she says, to warm the hearth;
bursts into I just stopped in to say hello. 
I’ll only stay awhile. 
                                  And we chime in,
I long to see how you’re getting on, 
I long to see you smile.
The silence of her baby Francie 
and our brother Butchie 
still torches our songs.

My Eighty-Year-Old Mother Takes On the Black and Tan

Rain-sopped and jet-lagged, she huddles 
with her ash-faced sisters 
on Tollymore Road, black purses snug 
in the crooks of their arms. The soldiers 
yank out the Renault’s back seat, rifle 
through luggage, check underneath. 

Do you fancy us gun-runners 
from the states, she asks. 
’Tis ashamed you should be. 
A stone’s throw from here
Bobby Sands starves himself to death 

in Long Kesh. 
                           Passports, please, says the Brit, 
stiff-lipped and full of spit hardly 
a wisp of hair on his chin.

And aren’t you named for the Queen herself, 
he asks. Not a tall, my soft-syllabled mother says. 
Christened Lizzie I was. Fifty years gone 
from this blighted isle, and still this. 

After Hiroshima

                                         Shikata ga nai
                                         August 15, 1945
Each day in school we vow to die 
for Hirohito, file past his icon with eyes cast down 
as if nine suns might blind us. Even in dreams 
his white wings blaze. When we hear his voice
          —an ordinary voice like any other— 
                         It can’t be helped
we are struck dumb except for Rika who mimics it exactly
         —a twelve year old in tattered shorts 
              speaks with the voice of a deity—
Now dry-mouthed
we fear rutted stones in a dismal swamp, 
fear tears slipping into rank tea, 
             —fear fear itself—
Broke like bent reeds, 
we wish to extinguish ourselves 
as the golden kite 
                                          to the quivering earth, 
as the chrysanthemum’s petals crimp brown.


Engine 75, a fire every forty minutes. In the Eighties 
the whole fucking Bronx was burning, tenements 
torched by junkies, landlords, neighborhood kids. 

Nobody cared except the displaced and 
the firefighters. And you, my brother, savored 
being a cog in it, loved careening around corners 
of cobbled streets, sirens screeching. My God, 

you said, the heat, the stench of burning skin 
made you want to give up sin. As a kid 
you scaled ladders, slid down the pole 
in Engine 83, helped polish the brass bell.

Which fire seared your larynx, scarred 
your carotid, caused a stroke? 
Now your old captain guides you down 
flights from your condo, drives you to lunch. 

Once you carried two children out of an inferno, 
one on your back, one in your arms, the floor above  
collapsing. The wind groaned about you, 
fed the flames. All you can recall is the great roar. 

Liz Dolan’s poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize, Ashland University, has been published by Cave Moon Press. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. Liz has won the following prizes: The Nassau Prize for Nonfiction, 2011, and the same prize for fiction, 2015; The Cobalt Review’s Baseball Poetry Prize, 2014; Delaware Beach Life’s First Place Poetry Prize, 2012, and Trellis Magazine’s First Place in Poetry, 2008; The Gypsy Satchet Award in Letters from Fiction Fix 16. She has also received fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Martha’s Vineyard Writers’ Residency. Liz serves on the poetry board of Philadelphia Stories. She is most grateful for her ten grandchildren who pepper her life and who live on the next block.

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