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Refugees at Cobh. Seán Dunne

We were sick of seeing the liners leav~ With our own day in, day out, so when The boats came with refugees to Cobh
It was worth the fare to travel
From Cork to glimpse them on railed decks.
They seemed like ourselves, which became Disappointing. Their clothes were different:
Dark coats and scarves like shawls,
Shoes heavy as anvils. Their talk
Thickened: accents the sound of rocks Crumbling and crunching in quarries. Latvia, A word to spill. We pushed pins
In the names of their towns and regions, A homeland rife with altered borders.
They hadn’t a word of English but we gave What we could: sheets and rationed tea, Sweets, blankets, bread, bottles of stout.
One night they sang for hours and we Heard their songs pour over the islands, Not one of us knowing the words.
That music stayed in the mind afterwards:
I can still see the lights of Haulbowline Shimmering as songs broke among waves And afterwards moonlight fell on silence, A flotsam of quiet like a bombed shore.
So strange to see emigrants to Ireland Huddled near posters telling us to leave The broken farms for Manhattan streets.
It became like Ellis Island: hunched
Lines of foreigners with bundles Staring at the grey cathedral, the terraces Of houses curved like icing around Hills where handkerchiefs fluttered.
In time we turned them away. Most stood Steady as cattle when the ship drew out With pilot boats trailing after it,
Kittens drawn after a mother coat.
Without them, there was one thing less To do, one reason less to stay and stare
At the ocean choking on words for home.

Photo Sebastian silva







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