Greg Rappleye

Among the 796 Dead Children
at Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home,
Tuam, County Galway

Michael Gannon, 18 January, 1928
age 6 1/2 months, general tuberculosis


The wren, calling at dawn from a thick of cedars
is counted as lost, once she ceases to sing.
Salt-white the winter field,
a father unnamed and the child mewling a last blood-wet song.
Ninety years on, perhaps it’s best we let him go—
a sign of the cross, a nod to the near forgotten
and leave him swaddled on his shelf
among the silent Irish dead.


The State of Maine

—The Great Influenza Pandemic,
September-December, 1918


The Irish girls board the train at Biddeford,
bound for Camp Devens, with a suitcase between
them and two jars of blackcurrant jam.
Their soldiers, who look a touch off-kilter,
swear they’ll carry these treats
all the way to the Somme. The girls smile
to think blackcurrant jam might be wanted
in the squalor of those dank
trenches; to sweeten the soda dodgers
and bum coffee, to help the boys remember
or even dream of them. After a few venial
sins, after a night of giggles in the visitors’ dorm,
the girls head back on The State of Maine,
iron wheels clacking merrily along the iron rails,
leaving the coach window slightly ajar
because it’s a bright September day and fresh air
is best for sniffles and scratchy throats,
not knowing that soon, their doughboys
will be frothy-lungs dead; that some fevered
days later, they will be dying too, but not before
carrying this death to the Pepperell Mill—
to the bale-cutters and spinners and weavers
and carders; and forty years on, the Doyle brothers
will be smoking Raleighs at a wake in Saco,
telling a wide-eyed boy how they scrambled
over coffins piled outside the undertaker’s
livery stable, playing blind man’s buff, and at dusk
hid among the stones of St. Mary’s Cemetery,
watching the Albanian gravediggers dump
mottled blue corpses from those pine-plank coffins
into eight or nine open graves,
then stack the coffins onto a hay wagon, cover them
with a canvas tarp, and roll the empties back
behind the mortuary gate.


Greg Rappleye’s second collection, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), won the Brittingham Prize. His third book, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), won the Arkansas Prize in Poetry and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series. His fourth collection is Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds, (Dos Madres Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The North American Review, Arts & Letters, Shenandoah, Virginia Quarterly Review, Water-Stone Review, and many other journals. He teaches in the English Department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap