Week 348: Dirge for St Patrick’s Night, by Elsa Corbluth

On 17 March 1980 (St Patrick’s Night) Eilidh Corbluth started work as a volunteer at the Mother Teresa hostel for women in Kilburn, London. That first night she was helping to organise a party for the residents when a fire was started in the hostel by an alcoholic, in which Eilidh and nine homeless women all died. This raw, powerful lament is the title poem in a sequence that Elsa Corbluth (born 1929) wrote in memory of her only daughter.

Dirge for St. Patrick’s Night

Rain on the red roses:
I had a daughter. I have none.
Grey fog on green hills rises:
I had two children. I have one.

Mist on the scented blossom:
she left, one afternoon,
face a flower, body lissom:
The same night burned to bone.

Needing to tend the needy,
so to find, and touch, Christ,
she reached his house unready
for this mocking of her trust.

Flowers of flame flourished redly
in her window while she slept:
love of dead Christ proved deadly,
her youth and my joy trapped.

Jesus said, suffer children,
not black-stick skeletons.
God’s Joan or devil’s cauldron?
Ash, all the holy ones.

At her grave’s head, pale roses
picked with their claws of blood:
eighteen summers’ slain praises:
under wet grass lies her God.

I use words: no-one listens.
I use tears with no ending.
My one girl the rain christens,
gutted house beyond mending.

Elsa Corbluth


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