Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hush Little Baby

My friend Dee and I are heading to Ireland for 5 weeks at the end of May. I’m going to do research for a book of poems I started over two years ago, poems about the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland (you can read about the project here:

Tuam banner hung at NUI with all 796 babies' names
Briefly, the laundries were institutions run by four orders of Catholic sisters, with the cooperation and collusion of the Irish government and the Catholic church, which had tight-fisted control of Irish morality. Up to 30,000 girls as young as 10 and young women were incarcerated in the laundries, forced into unpaid labor (mostly commercial laundry contracts with government offices, hotels, and hospitals), and kept until they came of age (or died, which happened to many). There were partner institutions, too, run by the church—"mother and baby homes" for unwed mothers, and industrial schools for male and female “delinquents.” To find out more about the laundries, read this:

Our “pilgrimage” will take us to all ten laundry sites (the buildings are mostly gone now), as well as the cemeteries where many of the Magdalenes who didn’t survive were buried, including High Park, where the bodies of 155 women were discovered when land was sold off by the sisters and excavated. Another place we’ll visit is the former site of a mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, where the bodies of 796 infants and children were discovered when the ground caved in above an old 20-chambered septic system, where the bodies had been dumped:

As a mother of three beautiful, beloved children, a step-mom to another well-loved son, and a doting grandma to eight, the Tuam story absolutely shatters me. So on this 2nd anniversary of the discovery at Tuam, I offer with love, remembrance, and (honest, I’m trying) forgiveness, one of the earliest poems from the project:


            My frame was not hidden from you when I
was made in the secret place, when I was woven
together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:15

In the ungarden at Tuam, we are harvesting babies,
over 800 in all (how many bushels’ worth?), pale blue
as butterwort, tiny rib bones an undulating trellis.

The babies have taken root in buried septic chambers,
their mothers long since plucked and bitten. Baby legs,
some only twigs, some still fat-fruited, lie akimbo in early

spring loam. At High Park, old gardens still produce. Here,
in the Irish fog, our plot of young women push fragrant buds
through the green, where St. Fiacre left cuttings staked

to chain-link cribs with laundry twine. These flowering vines,
called not trace in the Sisters’ tongue of plotting and cataloguing,
grow wild. Their tendrils run everywhere, cling to us all.

We have left our gardens too long untended. Spring rain soaks
the dirt, plants push to the surface. We must hurry! Dig up
and burn these weeds, before they fruit and go to seed.