I may have said that I now have Irish citizenship. My paternal grandmother was born and raised in Limavady, Co Derry, Northern Ireland, sailed for America in the early 1900s, married a bricklayer from Glasgow, and settled on the coast of Rye, New Hampshire.
The Irish climate, weather, topography, trees, flora and sky explain a lot of what I’ve observed of the Irish character (not least of all my own). They say that generational trauma extends seven generations, even with no additional trauma, and I’m convinced that I was born with traces of landlord- and famine-fear stamped into my own DNA.
Then again, I have known nothing of real want, material want.
The other day I was out walking, just exploring the lanes that surround the house where I’m staying, and came upon this plaque. There it sat, all by itself: humbly, mute, almost obscured by bracken and fern.
I was reminded of this poem by Wisława Szymborska.
Szebnie was a forced-labor camp established during World War II by Nazi in the south-eastern part of occupied Poland. It was located near the town of Szebnie approximately 6 miles east of Jaslo.
HUNGER CAMP AT JASLO
by Wisława Szymborska
Write it. Write. In ordinary ink
on ordinary paper: they were given no food,
they all died of hunger. “All. How many?
It’s a big meadow. How much grass
for each one?” Write: I don’t know.
History counts its skeletons in round numbers.
A thousand and one remains a thousand,
as though the one had never existed:
an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle,
an ABC never read,
air that laughs, cries, grows,
emptiness running down steps toward the garden,
nobody’s place in the line.
We stand in the meadow where it became flesh,
and the meadow is silent as a false witness.
Sunny. Green. Nearby, a forest
with wood for chewing and water under the bark-
every day a full ration of the view
until you go blind. Overhead, a bird-
the shadow of its life-giving wings
brushed their lips. Their jaws opened.
Teeth clacked against teeth.
At night, the sickle moon shone in the sky
and reaped wheat for their bread.
Hands came floating from blackened icons,
empty cups in their fingers.
On a spit of barbed wire,
a man was turning.
They sang with their mouths full of earth.
“A lovely song of how war strikes straight
at the heart.” Write: how silent.
–Translated by Grazyna Drabik and Austin Flint
Let’s take extra care to give thanks for our food today, and all who grow, prepare, and make it possible through through their service and sacrifice.