It was January 10, 1824.
A cold, blustery, patch-work quilted day.
The waves lapped against the
Rocky, Irish beach –
Almost drowning out the sand
Before meeting the misty grass.
Gulls flew overhead
Their song a complement to
The rustle of the wind through
The grass and the crash of the waves.
A boy stood and saw all this:
The crossing places of such.
Outlined by the rolling hills
Behind him, he gazed.
He was waiting along the sea,
Accompanied by just a small
Sack and the coat on his
Back. The hat topping it off.
A passer-by would have said he was
Lonely, or bored even.
But one look at his subdued blue eyes
Told the answer.
They were veiled pearls
In which one could see all –
The sadness, longing, and pain as
Only a hardened veteran could have…
He was only 18.
Not still a child, but not yet a man.
He tried to smile in spite of it all,
Trying to hold on to his homeland
Forever. But even that couldn’t
Drown out the yelling of the men from the docks.
The boy shivered from the cold,
His sandy hazel hair flowing in
The wind. He silently took out a potato
He had found, and began eating to keep his strength.
As he sat down, he let his mind
Wander back to his life. A mistake, it turned out.
He bit his lip to keep the tears hidden,
To think of something happier.
But the dam broke, for the memories
That flooded were too strong. The
Boy saw his parents, smiling at the
Dinner table with his brother and sisters.
Then the pain of watching them slowly
Give up their lives for their children.
The starvation became too much and,
Powerless, he watched them die together in his hands.
The boy and his brother and sisters stood
Solemnly as their parents were lowered
Into the earth next to the house.
None of them uttered a word.
Life then became that much
Harder. Left on their own with no
Money, the boy tried as much as
He could to support his family.
Within a week, he was begging in
The town — nobody would hire him
For days he would go hungry himself,
Just to feed his only kin.
And then, another blow: one by one
His brother and sisters came down with a sickness.
Desperately he tried to obtain help,
But more often than not, the local doctor refused.
Crying himself to sleep became a
Regularity. Even when the doctor finally
Came, his only reply was
“They’ll be dead within the week. Help will take two to come.”
Most can never claim to know utter helplessness.
The boy was not most; …but still a victim.
Fraught with despair, the boy cut short his
Begging so he could spend time with
Them. Come five days, his face was the
Last they ever saw.
He was the only one at their funeral.
The boy cried their tears as he lost his family forever.
Yet even sadness and
Unendurable pain couldn’t keep
The incessant hunger at bay.
He returned to begging, but left his heart behind.
One would think, that
Given the boy’s worse situation,
Pity would have been shown.
He wanted to die.
He knew he wouldn’t be
Missed. Just like nobody cares about
The baby bird who, on her maiden flight, plummets to her death.
What made him go on?
Hunger. And his last
Testament to his family:
To stay strong.
But staying strong was
Beginning to not matter.
For what good is anything else
When hunger makes you not human?
Finally, the boy was
Driven to desperation: he
Stole a loaf of bread
From the local baker.
For this heinous crime,
He was immediately caught and thrown in jail.
Is death really an escape?
Or a punishment for not staying
Strong? The boy did not know. But
With each passing day his resolve grew.
And one morning when he
Woke up he knew –
His next sleep would
Be his last.
But then God [or fate]
Intervened. The jail keeper let him go
For, his own son dead of typhoid,
He took pity, and slipped the boy some coins.
Life. Death. Lo! how they intersect.
Good is not in the preachers, but
In the doers. The boy surmised as he
Drew his coat around him
To keep out the wind.
His eyes surveyed the boats
Moored in the docks — the way
The sun danced upon each
From its escape from the clouds.
That was his future, but he
Easily turned his gaze: the ocean
Flowing grass and sand
There were no clouds there.
Suddenly a whistle was heard –
The reverie ended, and the
Boy began sauntering
Toward the docks.
For while he had been
Spared of death, the boy knew,
He could not stay:
Not here, nor anywhere near.
And so the boy stood at the
Gangplank, watching the ship
Above him, wondering what was
Going to happen on this voyage,
In that new world.
The boy sighed a generation of pain, took that first step committing himself, and collapsed.
He would never rise again.
*originally written 05 May 2011