a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
1850: in Tir na Meala, the vale of honey near
Ballyvourney, famine had struck hard, filling
the Macroom workhouse with dying children,
filling Gobnait’s cemetery with the dead.
“Much suffering, utter destitution,” wrote
Quaker relief workers Wright and Harvey
at the start of the disaster in 1847. But need
was too great. Little was done in Tir na Meala.
The blight passed. Cottages stood empty
where families had died, clutching each other.
1850: in Wisconsin, Black Hawk’s people had
been massacred and the land surveyed.
Ebenezer Brigham needed workers. Cheap.
Lead miners, builders, even farmers. Cheap.
They came from Cornwall, where the mines
were dying, they came from Germany where
the risings were suppressed, they came from
Ballyvourney, Gobnait’s starving land of honey.
They came from Cork desperate for work, for food.
They came speaking Irish, murmuring together
for they did not speak the language of Earthmaker,
Wajaguzera. They never knew of his nearby
presence at the flint-rich spring on Blue Mounds
nor of his splendid daughters, judging them. Lost
between the loved old land and the stolen new,
they set about forgetting: learned English, built
a church named for an apostle, married Germans.
Around them, bees buzzed through the prairies
and deer wandered among the sessile oaks, Gobnait’s
bees, Gobnait’s deer, but they set about forgetting her
too, though the land sweeping out from Blue Mounds
looks like Tir na Meala, green and fertile, they set about
forgetting because memory was in their way and they would
never see their home again. They tried to root like prairie
plants, deep into the new soil, but without Gobnait, without
Earthmaker, how does one recognize one’s home? They lived,
they thrived, they named the roads Sweeney, Keliher,
Lynch—old Ballyvourney names—and the bees buzzed, and the deer
grazed on the oak mast, and Gobnait joined the daughters
of Earthmaker, watching and judging, waiting to be remembered.
Note: This poem links the area around Black Earth, Wisconsin with Ireland. Patricia and her husband Michael were exploring ancestors of local Irish and found that many families had come from Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. Turned away from the parish hall, they discovered discovered St. Gobnaits’ church in ruins. Local hills now called the Blue Mounds were sacred to the Ho Chunk people.
Munchkins in War, 1962
Choices were simple in those days.
Everyone wanted to be Glinda,
the Good Witch, no one wanted
to be the Wicked Witch of the West.
Girls like me, who failed to be clearly
either, got to be munchkins, got to skip
down the painted paper road singing
follow-follow-follow-follow, got to rehearse
for relentless hours after school, off base.
I cannot remember what we wore, how
we fixed our hair, who held my hand
as we skipped down the yellow paper road—
I remember October darkness after dress
rehearsal, five or six military brats coming
home, singing loudly in a crowded car,
reaching the locked gates still singing
follow-follow-follow-follow, I remember
men with guns surrounding the car,
I remember October, I remember Cuba—
someplace far to the east, like Glinda—
I remember rolling down my window
to tell the men not to worry, we were
only little munchkins, nothing wicked—
I remember the gun. The gun in my face.
A young man’s frozen eyes in a frozen
face. I remember the gun being cocked.
I remember a trigger finger, twitching.
After that, I knew it would not be easy
to tell good from wcickedness. After that,
I knew being small offered no protection.
Note: This poem is from Homefront, a collection drawn from Patricia’s personal experience and rembering the continued harm to returning veterans and their families.
The Butterfly Tattoo Effect
Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
Charlene was fifty when she got it:
one small butterfly, perched on
her right shoulder, bright blue
with stipples of pink. Everything
in her life seemed safe by then:
husband, children, house and dog.
She wanted to be a little dangerous.
When she left the Jade Dragon
she called her oldest friend, Maggie,
in Florida, with the news. A tattooed
gal at fifty, she bragged. I ain’t down yet.
Maggie laughed that throaty laugh of hers.
An hour later on her way to work,
she stopped on a whim and bought
a gallon of red paint for her door.
That night, she didn’t drive straight
home but stopped for a drink at an old
haunt from her more dangerous years.
No one she knew was there, so she talked
awhile to Flo, the bartender, told her about
feng shui and red doors, and oh yes, she
mentioned the tattoo just before she left.
It rested in Flo’s mind all night as she
uncapped the beers and mixed the drinks.
She was warmer than usual, sassy and loud.
Things got wild. There was dancing.
A new woman stopped in and picked up
one of the regulars. Washing up past midnight,
Flo thought of her old friend Paula, who
lived in California. It was still early there.
Flo picked up the phone, right then,
and called. Somehow the subject of Charlene’s
tattoo came up. Paula had been thinking
of getting one too. Why not? Life marks us all,
why can’t we chose our scars just once?
They talked till late. The next day Paula
walked into a dealership and bought
the reddest car she saw. By nightfall she was
driving fast, towards the south. And the next morning
the world awoke to news of seismic convulsions
on every continent brought on by
the simultaneous shifting into high gear
of millions of women in sleek red cars.
Patricia Monaghan (1946-2012) was the co-founder of the Black Earth Institute along with husband Michael McDermott. Patricia was a poet, scholar, spiritual path-breaker, educator, and activist. Her connections to Ireland were a large part of her life and inspired several books written or edited. Her scholarship produced definitive books on goddesses of the world. Awards included a Pushcart Prize and a Chicago Humanities Festival Fellowship, this last to produce for the festival a full theatrical version of her Mad Sweeney driven to this by war and healed by nature. She lived at Brigit Rest, the home of the Black Earth Institute with gardens, a vineyard, orchard and tree circle of old Celtic Ogham alphabet.