Sunday, December 12, 2010

MY GRANDMOTHER’S HANDS

My grandmother’s hands
were torn and speckled with pigment
fair northern flesh burned by the fierce California sun.
A rebellious knotted vein rose up like a stone.
Souvenir from a strand of barbed wire
strung to keep the deer out of the garden.

Her freckles were an archiplelago of islands
adrift on a moon-milk sea.
They were Brendan voyagers in curraghs
headed for the New World
with a warrior phalanx of shields
raised up against a common enemy, the sun.
But they failed to protect her children,
when the melanoma set sail for that country
from which nothing ever returns.

I remember her wide spatulate fingers
that rubbed floursack sheets against the washboard
that mended jeans, made dresses for first day of school
and how I was ashamed they were not store-bought.
I remember the way she weeded the gardens,
dug up the praties, stacked wood for coming winter.

From her, I learned the survival of hands.
No caresses were needed because her love
was as fierce as the sun that burned her skin
as she labored in the garden or at the clothesline
she kept us safe, and provided when no one else would.
As she knelt to pray in the Sunday pew,
the sun shone on that knotted vein
and it was so beautiful—the scarring and freckles,
a skin painting of faith and tenderness.

From Ellery Akers' workshop, Petaluma, CA, 8/28/10 rev. 12/12/10

Praties is from the Gaelic for potatoes, "pràtai", a loan word via the Basque fishermen who introduced the tuber to western Ireland in the 16th century, via a Spanish word that is a compound of Carib-Taino batata (sweet potato) and Quechua papa (potato). Introduced to Europe by Spain in 1536, potato was first attested in 1565.

Praties is known as the famine song—first printed in 1897. There was nothing else left to eat In Ireland as all Irish food was owned by and shipped to England—and all that was left to eat were oats and potatoes. Then the blight rotted the potatoes—even the seed potatoes for next year. And the English stood by and watched as millions died.

Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras.
(iss mawt on tawn/lonn on tuck/russ )
Hunger is a good sauce

The Praties

Oh, the praties they grow small,
Over here, over here,
Oh the praties they grow small,
And we dig them in the Fall,
And we eat them coats and all,
Over here, over here

Oh I wish that we were geese,

Night and morn, night and morn,

Oh I wish that we were geese,

For they fly and take their ease,

And they live and die in peace,

Eatin' corn, eatin' corn.

But we're trampled in the dust,

Over here, over here,

We're trampled in the dust,

But the Lord in whom we trust

Will give us crumb for crust,

Over here, over here.


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