The Washerwoman’s Song
The washerwoman softly sings, new words
but an old, old song, as she wrings
and sluices and wrings again. Familiar
words, in a strange tongue, she sings.
They called it hope, Over Here,
that bitter slice of mildewed bread
that would have fed the ones who stayed
Home, the starving Irish dead.
Hope. That word twists in the head
like the diapers in her gnarled hand
squeezing dysentery free from cloth
for another child, in another dying land.
Oh, the silver tongue has words, and
Oh, the words have wings, free-flying,
like the lost Wild Geese soldiering
for other causes, for strangers dying.
Like the Devil’s own bodhrain comes
along the water a thrumming beat
from the factories where mothers die
so that the child might eat.
The wails of children echo grimily
from wall to wall, heard but not seen
in this blackened tenement canyon
so far from the hills that were green.
Sluicing her linen in a new river
she no longer sees the gay red plumes
of blood in these polluted waters,
but feels it; old blood, in new looms.