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American Wake for Elizabeth Howick
by Maureen Grady

On a steel grey evening,
the rain in waves against her,
my grandmother locked the door
of the Kerry schoolhouse
where she taught the farmers' children
and made her way to the sea.

Stories of an unrequited love,
someone named O'Connor she had lived for,
came down through family whispers.
She left home at eighteen,
her parents, four sisters,
and all she knew,
and crossed the country on foot.

Eight days later she reached Queenstown
and boarded the Campania for New York.
It was the first day of spring.

I imagine her on the deck,
windswept, gaunt,
her eyes holding the last light of land
she would never see again,
her mind full of poems she knew by heart,
words shaped by stone, hills, faith, famine.

Ten days later at Ellis Island
she signed the manifest,
Lizzie Howick,
a new self for a new world,
and stepped into the April morning.

No word of her ever reached home.
She died too young,
widowed, penniless,
leaving two strong girls to grace the earth.

In the faded picture that remains,
her dark hair pulled back,
the eyes deep-set,
her thick brows,
the sharp cheekbones,
her lips a fierce straight line,
I see my mother and myself.
I see my daughter.


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