In my Irish childhood, men were at work.
Children and women had the run of the house.
Street life flourished. Women could drink tea,
congregate in kitchens and gardens. Even in the special parlour.
We never said ‘rape’.
Family, church, the Irish people gave us phrases –
‘frightened, interfered with a bit of bother’
When they asked me, aged seven, what happened,
I didn’t know the words. At eleven, I still couldn’t say.
Men were protected from other men’s actions;
Girls and women were exposed, shamed.
From 1966 until 1972, I cycled to school in Drumcondra passing the High Park laundry. In 1993 the nuns who had run the laundry applied for a licence to exhume 133 women who died while incarcerated there, in order to sell the site to a developer. They could provide death certificates for only 75 women. During the exhumation the remains of another 22 nameless Magdalene women were unearthed.
When I allow myself, I can still feel
her new born fingers as she clasped mine.
I never wanted to let go.
But what life could I have given her
enclosed in a laundry where my name
has been changed and nobody knows me?
‘There is no saint called Maebh,
we will call you Mary, after the mother of God.’
Despite the chill of a February morning,
a man with waxy orange skin is outside
the clinic hooked up to a mobile drip, smoking.
Can you put on the gown please?
Not catwalk style but dry like wax paper or butterfly ash.
Then three rounds of the harsh machine.
On the way home, purple crocuses, alive
in crusty snow-blanched soil. And I wondered
what kind of flower would I choose, in the end.