(from the sequence 'Touchstones')
I. Family Catalogue. August 1880
for Annie Harding Lambert and Joseph Lambert, married in Kilmallock in 1861,
cursed with scarlet fever 1880
That year the Observatory in Armagh for the first time recorded
‘bright sunshine data’ using a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder.
Loving Katharine O’Shea met married Charles Parnell. History changed.
Susan Kate Lambert was 14, fate a flush in her bright-cherry lips,
when August 22 she died of scarlatina. The windows were already boarded.
That year the Irish Land League refused to harvest potatoes for
Captain Boycott and England paid 10 million pounds
to get the crop in. Maria Jane Lambert was 10, still snuggling up.
Crimson fuchsia August 11, dropped its silent bells.
Her ‘strawberry tongue’ peeled. No boycott for this.
Rebel bushranger in Australia, Ned Kelly had been captured. Joseph Lambert
named for his father, died at 4, August 21, fever burning brighter than turf
in the grate. Irish Renaissance began its flowering, women entered
medical schools. The red mist snuffed out Charles Edward Lambert aged 1,
August 5. Ned hung. He was 25, and ‘such is life’ he said before they hung him.
Contagion slunk deep into the corners of the house. Feral, it scuttled
across beds, breathing down sleeping throats, to bloom scarlet from inside
and all the love that exhausted itself in holding and mopping, wasted
by the upturned sods in the graveyard. Famine was still lurking, and
a bad year in the West. Joseph, heart failing, was pensioned out.
Her own namesake at 7 months had coughed her way out of life in ’75.
But four children dead in a month. Too many for headstones. Fear
carved into Annie’s face, whittled her youth. How to keep the last three alive?
8, 13, 16 – boys she needed to become men. Big windows, clean air. Yes.
Big fields to run. Not just a damp turf-smoked room, sun scratching at the glass.
Arriving Sydney. 1889
Annie Harding Lambert
Blinded by light and it was winter.
Sky so big it whittled the new horizon
after seas so vast they shorten breath. I thought
it would never end. Cork – Plymouth – the Cape –
oceans, oceans, more ocean. Almost three months,
bonds with home frayed, broken, trailing like sea weed.
I rocked for weeks after, legs of boned jelly.
We have a house with big windows.
We have an ice box in an ordinary home.
That’s what the lads worked for first.
As good as a Big House in Ireland they say.
Ice comes by trap and pony from Botany
but it used to come all the way from America!
They have jobs, all three. So easy. Everyone seems
rounder. And food – a table set looks fit for royalty.
Here, it’s not cold, it’s not dark and it’s not small.
Summer now. It’s so hot sometimes I feel I eat sun.
There’s fruit. Meat. I think of the lost ones, how well
they might have grown here. But that’s dust now.
I’m watching my sons unfurl, straighten, muscle-up.
And love. They are loving, now that fear seems like history.
Harder for me. A good decision. But I’m restless.
I want to keep moving. Maybe it’s in the blood, roaming.
Sometimes I wonder will they ever return, or theirs.
Take something of us back to the green loveliness of Cork,
fuchsia bleeding the hedgerows out in Limerick,
find Joseph under the sod, tell him we’re all fine.
So much has gone missing, I splinter with loss.
My heart thumps a double beat like two hearts in
the dark cave of me. But when I look up, radiance.
Yes, a good choice. Such a bright sky here.
Day or night, sun or stars. It fills, and keeps filling.