In the worst hour of the worst season of the worst year of a whole people a man set out from the workhouse with his wife. He was walking – they were both walking – north. She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up. He lifted her and put her on his back. He walked like that west and west and
And when I take them out of the cherrywood box these beads are the colour of dog-violets in shadow. Then at the well of the throat where tears start they darken. Now I wear at my neck an old stress of crystal: an impression of earthly housekeeping. A mysterious brightness made underground where there is no sun only stories of a strayed child and her mother bargaining with a sullen king. Promising and arguing: what she can keep, what she can let him have. Shadows and the season violets start up in are part of the settlement. Stolen from such a place these beads cannot be anything but wise to the healing arts of compromise, of survival. And when I wear them it is almost as if my skin was taking into itself a medicine of light. Something like the old simples. Rosemary, say, or tansy. Or camomile which they kept to cool fever. Which they once used to soothe a child tossing from side to side, beads of sweat catching and holding a gleam from the vigil lamp. A child crying out in her sleep Wait for me. Don’t leave me here. Who will never remember this. Who will never remember this.