(in memory of all women, incarcerated again their will, for no crime, in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. And for their children. March 2018) By Elaine Feeney.

the past is built upon the backs of mothers,

on the blood of women who were once girls.

Here under the sun, we lay red tulips

among marble, rock and ash,

the grave is a singing cave for them to echo,

let us remember their labour.

The present is a blinkered face,

as eyes look forward at the day’s business.

But today, we hear you in your homes, singing,

brushing down your hair under an orange light.

Or in a kitchen slicing apple for tarts and

sweeping up a muddied floor after

boots of brothers who didn’t hear you crying.

You passed by stonewalls and verges of green and grey,

under a dimming light, giggling high up on bikes

you pedaled to dancehalls, like my granny,

white flour on your faces,

toning down rouge,

everything was hidden,

even a young ruddy skin shade could threaten,

or worse, attract attention.

You. Suspended. An arc-wave. Somewhere girl.

Almost woman. Against your will. Terrifiying.

And cycling home with company,

I hope that once,

you felt the fullness of the moon.

I wonder of the neighbours

who watched you grow.

Beckon at you passing.

Did they wonder at your absence?

There are no words for the dead.

Or words for what we do to the living.

So wading out to sea, crippled by the tides relentless action,

we try to hold hands up, first we balance,

to admit we’re here, wading,

and finding words among the salt water that

we know to be unpopular to power,

we try to speak for you now, sisters.

You were forced to purgatory,

and that we didn’t

hear your cries of anguish

or act on screams of anger is

our shame.

We listen to your children cry out over

Annaghdown and Turloughmore,

of Kilreekle and Bohermore,

Athenry and Mervue, Cashla and Tuam,

of east and west and north and south;

searching for their past.

We didn’t think them capable

will not echo back again.

I am no use to the dead,

to your children we must commit

to the words of greater women,

we will remember and speak words

of how they

incarcerated and denigrated,

abused and used you,

for profits few still speak off,

to starch and bleach the secrets

sheets of criminals.

We never could have imagined

that the mother minders had

such intent as murder

or massacre as they made

us all mouth less in the face of their power


but now we know better

we do better.


And though there are no words

appropriate to return the lives you didn’t lead,

or the children you couldn’t mother.

Only to listen. Hear the past. Hear your children.