Marcella Remund is from South Dakota, where she taught at the University of South Dakota. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals. Her chapbook, The Sea is My Ugly Twin, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. Her first full-length collection, The Book of Crooked Prayer, was published by Finishing Line in 2020. Find more info and links to her books, at http://www.marcellaremund.com.
Become the stone the river cannot wash away. — Anonymous
West of Presho, South Dakota, beyond
Chamberlain’s river bluffs, the land flattens
out to prairie again. We’re headed for the
Black Hills and her cocoon of shadows.
We’re laughing, singing with the Ipod. My
bare feet are on the dash, one hand out the
window making dolphin waves in the wind
when Joni Mitchell and the Chieftans come
on. It’s “The Magdalene Laundries,” with its
dissonant guitar and tin whistles like mourning,
like being lost at sea, like a gutful of sorrow.
The song, this stone I bit off and swallowed,
lands somewhere too deep to name.
Before the song is over I’m crying, typing
“Magdalene Laundries” into my phone.
I know too much now, follow dead and living
laundry girls around, their pathetic second cousin
with my gullet full of stones, begging Let me in!
Red hair is all I have of my own Donegal kin.
Maybe longing for them took my life down
this gorse-thorned path. Or maybe in another
life I too washed and ironed sheets in the sad,
relentless steam. Maybe that’s why I had to go,
had to touch the stone walls, headstones, every
green or bulldozed or covered-over space
where girls once searched for a way out,
where they cried for help and were starved,
buried and forgotten, while we all turned
our backs or crossed ourselves. All these years
and still the song plays, unrelenting, looped in me:
One day I’m going to die here too
and they’ll plant me in the dirt
like some lame bulb that never blooms
in any spring, in any spring.
The driver asks, though he’s a Galway bloke
being polite, Here on holiday? I’m tired today, tired
of being away from home, being kind, avoiding
the subject, tired of shallow, happy tourist blather.
So I tell him. I’m traveling the Republic, searching
out Magdalene laundries for a book I want to write.
Sure those were terrible times, he says, then silence.
But we both hear it, the first slow fracture as the dam
unseals itself. I could write a book, he says. But where
would I start? Long pause. We listen together as water
finds itsway, opens wider the wound, lets in the sea.
The things those priests did to me, he says. I keep still,
let the waves come, roil and crash. They ruined me for life,
those brutes, he says. His voice is shaking now, the pitch
higher, thinner. I’m afraid we’ll both drown. I will write
poems, I say, trying to calm the tide. Aw yeah, he says,
I love poetry too: “And I shall have some peace there,
for peace comes dropping slow,” he recites. I tell him
he’s lucky to be from the land of Yeats. Maybe
I’ll write about those days when I retire, he says.
We ride on in silence, both of us lost in the spray.
We stop at Eyre Square, I pay him €20 for an €8 fare.
Thank you, I say, which seems too dry, too small.
Please don’t wait, I say. Write your book.
when I was in 2nd grade and Masturbator #1 sat in his car in the Safeway parking lot, wanked off and smiled at me, or in 4th grade when I stole a Troll eraser and pocket notebook from Florence Variety Store and they saw me walk out with it and where my grandma had to shop regularly for fabric and nylons, or in 4th grade when I plagiarized my mother’s poem about birth control pills, or in 6th grade when I let Kenneth Bennett kiss me during track practice in front of Mrs. Funk, or at 13 when Masturbator #2 ran my bike off 30th Street, jumped the curb, and pulled alongside me (his pants around his knees), or in 9th grade when Bruce Sheffield tried to cop a feel at Mike’s dance party, so he could tell the other footballers how easy I was, or at 15 when I smoked a joint in the janitor’s closet at Notre Dame Academy for Girls and Sister Alecoque called my mom, or at 16 when the cops woke me up in Memorial Park and said I couldn’t sleep in the grass, or at 16 when I finally gave it up to some faceless boy in an empty lot in Ponca Hills because I was just so fucking tired of the relentless prodding, or at 14, 15, or 16 when I skipped school to hang out at Dave’s house and drink Boone’s Farm, or at 17 when I took up with a Vietnam vet with PTSD, or at 19 when I ran off to New Mexico with a guitar player, or at 21 when I got pregnant.
Born Catholic, born sooner or later or orphaned, and I might have been scooped up for what I’d seen or knew or done or thought about doing, sent to the Good Shepherd in Omaha, or the sisters in St. Paul or Kansas City, or one of the other refuges. I might have spent a year or twenty in steam and silence, washing Egyptian cotton sheets for the Diocese or the VA, followed by decades of nightmares and mistrust, instead of sitting here in my own back yard, our garden a map of the sun, playing Red Rover with the babies I never had to give up.