for Patrick Thomas Murphy (1821-1922)
of green fields turned brown,
white, thatch-roofed cottages
sitting empty, gaunt bodies
thrown into mass graves
follow him to America,
along with his last view
of home’s craggy, gray cliffs.
Settled into his new life
he jots daily domesticities
with a neat, thin-lined hand
in a ledger book
passed down to us,
its leaves now long yellowed.
The ink fades slightly before each return
to the inkwell: financial accounts
on one page,
children’s birthdates on another,
doodles and a scribbled reference
to unnamed cousins in Pennsylvania
on the next.
Then a flash of fire
from the old country.
He speaks of families relocated
en masse by the British
to County Mayo from Ulster
after the rising of 1798
a generation before his birth.
Whether his family was among these,
he does not say,
but he was from Castlebar,
He named a son
Robert Emmett Murphy[sup]1[/sup]
and was stubborn enough to live
until his one hundred first year,
the year of Irish independence.
Yet the countless dead
for lack of food—
were a lifetime before,
and there was an ocean between.
How much more the distance
for we who flip through brittle pages.
1. Robert Emmet (1778 –1803) was an Irish nationalist rebel leader. He led an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed.