Poem: Three Epitaphs of Irish Immigrants in the Style of 'Spoon River Anthology'
In 1915 Edgar Lee Masters published "Spoon River Anthology,' a book of poems about small town American life. Each poem told the life story of one person in the town of Spoon River. They were written as epitaphs: statements written after a person's death. I found the interlocking stories the most moving - when a husband and a wife each talk about their point of view, or an employer and a worker. I wrote the poems below to be the story of an Irish American immigrant family. In a history textbook I once saw a photo of a sign that read "No Irish Need Apply" on the door of a factory, and it made me think how prejudice against the Irish must have impacted their family lives.
To a family of six brothers
in the laborer’s section of town
I brought with my advent
the death of a mother.
Richard loved me in his grief
and I thought him the greatest man alive
larger than life, tale spinner, center of a crowd.
Coveting his youngest child,
he let my child’s world last long
and my eyes shone
despite the sullen men around the table
with their tired faces and rough hands
for I looked past a grey shoulder
to a rustle of silken fluttering…
Richard’s bright-eyed Irish faeries….
We have only cursed ourselves
with the evils of liquor.
What is it for a man
in his youth and strength
to be passed idle in the street by a snip of a clerk!
Day after day I hated the signs:
“No Irish need apply.”
I was eldest in the family
and my mother trusted me in all.
Late of an evening
we sat in the warm bright kitchen
after the boys were asleep upstairs
and I would forget for a time
my troubles in the yard.
Richard I ceased to consider.
Then the death in childbirth:
the daughter wanted so long.
I meant to love little Colleen as no other child had ever been loved
but Richard wooed her from me with his Irish magic.
Where was he when Tim
drunk in a filthy pub
fought ‘til he near got himself killed?
More poems by Grace O'Malley
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