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Monday, December 11, 2006


by Bonnie Naradzay

First came four imported breeds
of potato, like the Four Horsemen,
from the New World. The largest
tuber, the Horse Potato, soon
was all the Irish grew. Then,
within days, the withering blight -
and the sickening smell of decay.
The British levied tariffs on imported corn,
formerly used for animal fodder,
and cheaper wheat was diverted
from Ireland’s poor to sell to the Continent.
Sir Robert Peel’s idea, maize from America,
called “Peel’s Brimstone” for the yellow color,
did not catch on. The Chickasaw tribe donated
money and wheat. Then England sponsored
lectures, solely in English, on growing wheat
- to starving tenants farming quarter-acre lots
who spoke only Gaelic. Pamphlets
were handed out on agricultural practices
containing whole passages from Adam Smith.
Lady Gregory’s husband’s clause
in the convoluted Poor Law
forced tenants out of their huts,
newly roofed with boughs and sod,
away from their smoldering fires of peat,
while priests gave last rites in the wind.
In the winter of cholera,
crow-bar brigades pulled apart
the windowless huts of mud and stones,
turned stick-thin families loose
to starve in a ruined country.
Where do rooks go when the trees are felled?
Workhouses, devolved from charities,
were locked down by English landlords
claiming to have no food anywhere.
Whole families, moaning to be let in,
the next morning lay dead outside
the bolted door where they’d lain all night,
too weak to move on. After a week
of building roads to nowhere, famished men
on work crews died before their first pay came.
The Duke of Norfolk then proposed – Why not
curry powder instead of the potato? They could live
on curry powder mixed with water.

Bonnie Naradzay is a degree candidate at the Stonecoast MFA Program, having earned her M.A. over 35 years ago. She has a poem accepted for publication in JAMA and has published in many online journals, including Salt River Review, Beltway Quarterly, Innisfree, Potomac Journal, and Convergence.