Poem by Mary A. Elmahdy


 

Sligo Cemetery

I went over in mid-September
the briars grew tall around the graves
and from their thorny branches,
the fat, blackberries hung so brave.

It’s the first place he took me
up on the hill to hallowed ground.
Below, the buildings clung together
as if they could not bear to stand alone.

Like lace, the lichens decorated ancient
Celtic crosses, markers of limey stone,
that honored both the high-born and the low,
the heroes and the scoundrels,

wee babes, pipers and fiddlers grand,
the famished and the misers,
the preachers and the sots, the mothers
and the fathers; it seemed he knew the lot.

Walking there among the dead, we felt
full of zest. Hunting among the brambles
he took pride in finding the biggest and the
best, pressing them firmly between my lips.

Their juice filled my mouth like sweet, black,
Irish blood. Wild food that grew free was
my delight, but he refused to partake,
saying he wouldn’t like his grandfather’s taste.

I looked down when he stopped and studied
his surname etched into the marble slabs. Tenderly
he arranged the flowers for his sinless mother,
wept a bitter tear for loss of his two brothers.

I knew nothing then of the power of the clan,
the bond of common suffering and poverty
wound so tight around those tied to this land
all twisted into knots by the Clan Mother’s hand.

So, I didn’t look back as the twilight came on,
though a feeling of dread came over me. I felt
we were being followed and wondered if it was
the berries in my belly clambering to get free.
Or perhaps it was the pints of stout I drunk
the night before that were causing the ruckus.
I heard tales of the town’s haunted history, and
realized through my smugness, I knew bubkis.

I could smell it now, the strong odor of the peat
the odour the Grim Reaper likes when he reaps.
So, I slowly turned around to sneak a cautious peek.
What I saw made my heart skip and quickly beat.

They stood in various stages of decay, ragged
and moldering, the whole family on display.
Ghostly grey their forms in sharp relief against the
dying light. I fell against the door jamb shaking

from head to toe with fright. I blinked and held my
eyes shut for a lengthy spell, but I could hear their
voices wailing, an unearthly, hideous din, noises
inhuman that could only have come out of hell.

But my companion seemed unruffled as he calmly
told them they must go. Whereas I ran down
the street as fast as I could to find the nearest pub.
After several pints drunk in quick succession

he ambled in by and by. “What the hell was that?”
I asked. “Ah”, he said, “pass no heed of it. The
ones who’ve died wish they were still living. They
get a bit jealous once they see the fires of Lughnasa.”

 

Mary A. Elmahdy: “I have come to love poetry as a result of visiting Ireland on the 150th year anniversary of W.B. Yeats. I learned so much just by being in his part of the island for 4 months. I have been back to Ireland twice since then and have continued writing poetry and embrace it as the perfect art form to express almost any emotion I may be feeling or have ever felt. I hope you enjoy the piece. It did not start out as a ghost story, but poems seem to have a mind of their own so I let it have its way.”

 

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