Sylvia Cavanaugh

A sizable portion of the men who were hanged as Molly Maguires in Schuylkill County were illiterate Irish speakers from the remote and impoverished western portion of County Donegal.

I was a boy of Donegal and
the Barrony of Boylagh
that scoured seaboard discord
in the turning knot of fiddle steps and
the singing of the night
on sunlit days my friends and I
danced on naked granite

I couldn’t have read what’s on this page
but was fluent in the cleft and field
my words recalled our legends there
in the telling of the names
‘til my hunger scratched a tenant’s tune
that soon became lament
my landscape language useless

From the headland’s stunted swarth I sailed
across St. Brendan’s Sea
and on to Schuylkill County
where my bone wracked body curved and cleaved
snug to a mountain crevice
fingering her fossil shells
I spoke its salt blue tale

But the companies of coal and rail
spoke another kind of story
of industry and wages
my tongue was tied and teetering
I tripped above the blackened vein
seeking only fairness

Old Molly Maguire crept to town
her blood still trapped in the tightened fist
begging bread for babes
but mine was freed at the end of a rope
in America
my Molly’s heart beats here