a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Whores, Beggars, Saints
Pressing palms with payment,
shillings reek of worn shoes,
remuneration for spit and spittle.
Hard working HIV whores laugh from behind burqas,
sex trade slaves,
nodding asanta sana,
in indentured servitude.
I falter into dusty dank avenues,
bustling brown bodies weave past hawkers,
hailing jambo over fruit, flies, daily bread.
I fear pilfering on steamy Mombasa roads,
wear lapis lazuli beads on an open heart,
silver cros Cheilteach on a broken heart,
walk toward the cathedral, uttering,
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me
as Muslim passersby nod blessed be he.
Beggars keep watch by the crumbling church wall;
fingerless lepers wail, while
infants suckle empty breasts.
I press one shilling into the palm of a mother
for my child.
One footstep closer, another moans.
I press two coins into a refugees’ palm for reparation
-utter keep them, protect them, heal them,
mutter forgive me, I knew not what I did.
At the stair, outreached arms for alms,
an orphan grabs my linen hem,
I press three worn coins into her small hand.
I am spent.
In the midst of embittered troubles, war breaks out.
I cross the portico seeking sanctuary.
They wait in quietude, or is that turpitude?
Hushed lips whispering
my children, your children, our children, their children.
I enter the confessional, an ancient one sits.
Winter hair, summer eyes, peasant hands,
his smile disarming.
Stealing a novel from under his wool tunic,
he brings forth The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
He reads a person who longs to leave the place where she lives is an unhappy person.
I sigh the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea.
I ask – alms?
He says – pence for the poor.
I ask – fast?
He says – love is the better way.
I ask – pray?
You beam- poetry.
For absolution he recites his poetry,
one stanza –
They say love does not change
But deepens, becomes ever new,
Alters colour, shade,
Like the Kerry sea in the bay,
Beside which we grew and matured,
As does good wine.
I soar past curious tightlipped penitents.
They whisper Jesus, Mary and Joseph, LORD bless us and save
us, what did she do?
Five, fifteen, fifty-five years pass in turmoil of mind.
You welcome me, a stranger.
You say Come away with me, rest,
and lead me out of the country to my fathers’ mothers’ mothers’ heel stone cottage on a bluff by the sea.
East winds carry morning light.
Thirty days –
we wash weirwood floors with wild hyssop;
scrub mud walls with euphrasy and rue;
cleanse typhus windows with rosemary and lavender;
brew bee balm and thyme,
burn linden and wormwood.
You smile No evil clings here.
Oppressed that night, I ponder
A fatherless child at five months,
A defiled child at five years,
A beaten child more times than one can count.
O, time would fail me to tell all.
Once upon a time innumerable afflictions plagued a sweet, pure child –
abandonment, debauchery, depravity, violence, enmity, incestus.
Consoled that morn, I wonder
Who shall atone?
Weary, you call me to the lilac grove,
drink 2008 Chave Hermitage,
sip Saint Germaine,
bring secrets to light.
Drunk on bearded iris, sweet pea, dianthus, summer phlox,
honeybees drone We are only here once.
Dunnocks weave moss nests in honeysuckle hedgerows, wild rock doves coo druuuu druuuu,
we ponder Prayer of Manasseh while Nightjars churr
the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the
Salt tears wet the page.
We pour more wine,
rest as west winds carry moonlight’s night.
Ah, our love is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Muadhnait Loideán Mona Lydon (was a professor at the University of Washington, where she collaborated with WHO, CDC and NIH on international efforts addressing the health of women and infants. From 2009 to 2011 she joined faculty at the University of College Cork and helped launch the first National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit in Ireland. She volunteers for Médecins Sans Frontières and has served the poor in Liberia, Kenya, Abkhazia and Mexico.