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ORHANS, a poem

When I started to post this I couldn't have imagined how difficult -- almost impossible -- it would be. Others must have posted poems as blogs but I'm finding, after hours of trying to format it as it should be, it seems impossible. The only solution I can think of now is to double-space the whole thing. As much as I hate doing this here it is.

               ORPHANS

I have never seen Punta Beg

And don't know that I ever will,

Except in the pictures my mother painted

In words that are with me  still,

 

Pictures so clear and so vivid

That if I should awake there today

I'd have no confusion nor doubt where I was

And might hear my mother say,

 

"Be careful, Sissy, be careful,

Don't run with the bottles, don't run!"

And Sissy so proud and her head in the clouds,

Clap her hands for all of the fun and look 

Down at the mess with her chin on her chest

Saying, "oh, Mary Kate, look what I've done."

 

Sissy was Sara, my mother's next younger,

Mary Kate my mother and Julia the tot;

John was a boy who would soon be a man

With the job of a man because that was his lot.

 

The Punta Beg life was a frivolous life

Full of laughter, learning, music and dance,

And who would imagine the sadness awaiting

In the grimmest of circumstance?

 

Their mother was taken, their father was taken --

So much of the love those children had known --

Gone with those wonderful people and

The Punta Beg orphans so nearly alone.

 

Not that they'd lost their spirits --

A legacy much too strong --

Such spirit could never be broken

Or discouragement hold them for long.

 

After huddles and consultations that

Involved a committee of two,

An uncle here and an uncle there said,

"We've thought this matter all the  way through,

 

And decided and concluded and it just seems fair

That with all things considered

(Except others' opinions)

They can't stay here and they must go there."

 

So arrangements were made, the passage was paid,

The Merrion waited at Cobh;

An uncle whose heart wasn't made for the part

Hooked up the carriage and drove --

The long painful jouney to Cobh.

 

And holding his tears this uncle said to

The boy fifteen, now a man,

"Look after your sisters, young Johnny,

The very, very best that you can."

 

He did; the boy did.

 

The ship, my mother told me,

Sailed upside down half the way

To the  place that would now be forever their

Home -- the strange and mysterious USA.

 

On August eleventh of nineteen-seven

They sailed up to Market Street --

In Philadelphia City -- here to meet

Sights and sounds, styles and faces,

 

People of other nations and races; the

Girls eyes wide, unbelieving, John standing

Tall and in charge, the girls hardly breathing,

Baby gripping a hand in each hand.

 

Soon their mettle was tested and would be tested more,

The grand home wasn't grand, the rich uncle, naturally, poor.

Nine children in the house already, thirteen when added four more,

"Fifteen of us," whispered Baby, "we'll never shut the door."

 

Their lives were hard, education cut short,

They endured what they must and stood strong,

The laughter and music they brought from home

And the steel in their spines lasted long.

 

Mary Kate and Sara met Jack and Tom,

Two Irish brothers from Clare,

Well, maybe not Clare but Kensington,

But their parents came from there.

 

They married the brothers and issued

A truly amazing brood,

Fifteen double first cousins, it seemed

Half of our neighborhood. 

 

And Julia married another Tom and

Had children whose children had more

And those children had children who naturally

Had children as all those before.

 

John, of course, kept his word to the end,

Looking after those girls even when

He was already plowing a field of his own

(So to speak) and his offspring would plow it again.

 

And so it went for a hundred years which

Have brought us to this very day,

A noble story of struggle and glory

And memories too precious to let pass away.

                         __________

----------Charlie Killeen, August 2007

 

Comments
8 Comment count
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This poem is wonderful,

This poem is wonderful, Charlie. It is like a song that tells a tale of the voyage to Ameria with all its ups and downs and dreams and promises. m

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comment on short story Solitary Housewife

Mary, I got an email saying there was a response from you to a comment. I thought maybe you had found my notes on your short story Solitary Housewife. I can't find it myself now but I was hoping you had. In any case I don't know if redroom made a mistake but there was no new comment when I followed the link they provided. But most importantly I do hope you found my comment on the short story. If not -- life goes on. Right? -- Charlie 

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Suburban.....

Hi Charlie, I did not find your comment - I looked but it was not there. That's a pity but, still, I appreciate that you read it and liked it. Thank you for that! 

Regards,

Mary

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Your poem

I loved your poem Charles. It was entertaining, so visual. I love poems that rhyme and poems that tell a story. Thank you for sharing. Margie

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thanks

Margie,  Thanks for reading my poem, ORPHANS. Glad you also like rhyming poetry. Among moderns there seems to be an attitude that rhyming poems are inferior. W.B. Yeats, Edna Millay, Robert Frost -- all second-rate. Maybe I've got them wrong and I'm not putting myself in the same class as the above people but anyway I'm glad you like it. Did I direct you to it? Margie, be well. So nice to hear from you. Got a note from David Henry Sterry tonight. That was a surprise, a welcome one. I had just come in from an AA meeting that was satisfying in a way I won't go into now. Then I got David's note, then yours. Things falling together -- at least it feels that way. ------------ Charlie  

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being well, doing well

Margie, Hope you are well and doing well. ------------- Charlie

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Your story in a poem...how

Your story in a poem...how wonderful, Charlie.  Amazing family there to be able to include four orphans.  ~nan

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orphans

Yes, Both my mother's parents died before the age of 40. Her father was a schoolteacher who went to England because he was told he could make a lot of money there working in the factories. In a short time he lost an arm in a machine and returned to Ireland and schoolteaching. All of what is contained in that poem is true. Their family there wanted to keep them but they couldn't all stay on the same home. However, you could walk the whole town in ten minutes. But an uncle here was writing letters back telling how rich he was and an uncle there was a sort of patriarch who made all the decisions. (And didn't think much of the rest of the family.)They conspired to get them to Philadelphia where they were put out to work in the textile mills six days a week, 10 hours a day -- except for Julia, my aunt, who was only seven. They turned all their money over to the uncle and were treated like slaves. Years later I'd hear my mother say to my aunt Sally, "do you still pray for them?" My aunt would say, "oh, sure, all the time." They were extraordinary people who had every excuse to go bad and didn't. The grounding they  had received from their parents and the rest of that family -- except the sneaky uncle who sent them here -- lasted them all their lives. Of course my father was a beautiful man. A tough guy in the best sense of that, but the kindest, fairest man I ever knew. A very soft heart. Thanks for reading it. Glad you like it. ---------------- Charlie