An American Wake

Neighbours gather, nervous laughter

Crickets sing behind the rafter

Glasses chink and teacups chatter

Words of wit and words of matter

Are lost in shadowed corners.


The Sun dips low and colours fade

A Tilley lamp brings light to shade.

A lonely fiddle lifts the gloom,

But yet no smiles pervade the room.

All present, merely mourners.


A ticket from the Cobh of Cork

‘SS Britannic’ to New York.

For Tess to find a better life

Within Manhattan’s toil and strife.

A home for hopeful travellers.


Young women shown in magazines,

With bouffant hair and tailored jeans.

Handsome men in charcoal suits

With painted ties and blue suede boots,

Show Tess, potential futures.


A battered suitcase tied with strings

Contains inside, her precious things.

A passport stamped, a sponsor’s letter

A hope that friends will not forget her.

That God will bless her wanderings.


The boy withdraws and sits apart

A stony coldness grips his heart.

For who will brush away his tears

Will wash his hair and soothe his fears?

When Tess departs next morning.


With heavy eyes and drooping head

The weary boy is put to bed.

The rosary his path to sleep

It leads him to a place so deep

That weeping does not wake him.


The walk to school, the noisy throng

He has no impulse to belong.

The glowing Sun the cobalt skies

Are painful arrows to his eyes.

He seeks the darkest shadows.





























Comments about this page

  • This is an engaging and nuanced poem to me, especially because my own family history involves emigration to America from Ireland. I particularly enjoy how its opening and closing stanzas present the topic of shadows in contrasting forms. This is fitting for a poem about a family experiencing transition and loss. The poem provides the reader with closure albeit in a melancholy form, especially in the last stanza when the boy who was left behind “seeks the darkest shadows.”

    By Thomas Seán Purdy (17/02/2023)

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