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October 2013, vol 9, no 3

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Doris Lynch

Watching a Lost Bird as My Baby Kicks Inside Me

Ireland, 1968

frenzy of wings
sparrow circles the rafters
flutter of tiny foot

Sometimes working at the Magdalene Laundry, I wonder about Thomas O'Leary, whom does he lie with now? Sweet-talking Colleen O'Hallahan or roughhousing Patty McGee in a bed of straw? All day heat from the boiling water, the stench of bleach, and steam from the press draws sweat across my brow. It dribbles down my neck and chest, chafing a red border under my breasts. How Tom O'Leary would laugh to see how they've grown. During these twelve-hour workdays, I try to sing ditties as we did under the waxing moon, but suddenly an image of a babe with black ringlets appears in my mind, and I weep, silently. The other girls carry their own burdens of future loss. Over the clattering machines, we can't hear each other talk, only machine bangs, whistles, and bursts of steam. Do the nuns believe that this work will clean our souls before they take our newborns? Soap, heat, steam, and the admonishments of nuns all bring a heaviness to body and mind. At night, wracked by restless dreams – a tiny one's hand yanked out of mine – I wake to the sounds around me. The other girls and I – each breathing for two—for a month or so longer.

lost in the clouds
gulls call to each other
distant baby's cry

Note: In Ireland the Magdalene Laundries made over 10,000 pregnant women virtual slaves until the 1980s. The babies were placed for adoption