Last Letter from Great Aunt Nora Gannon Gallagher, Resident at St. Margaret’s House of Industry (Infirmity Ward), Dublin, to Her American Nephew, Concerning the Spanish Civil War, John Dos Passos, Etc.

12 August 1937


If a Fiat Arrow barreled through

the dreary Dublin sky, and scatter-sprayed

incendiaries across the sorry shutters

of this refuse heap, I’d God-bless Mussolini

and step off into the propeller.

But everything’s cream and carrot-tops

in your U.S. of America. Rest easy,

nephew, as your dear cousin, Big Bill Gannon,

fights on against the Fascists—last month

marching the Connolly Column into Madrid.

Someone must rise for soda bread and roses,

though I’m sure you gave as good as got

with the mill girls of Biddeford, Maine.


Big Bill writes that he met Dos Passos—

“Dos” to those who know. They tapped a cask

of sherry—cozy is as cozy does—

in a command post near Brunete.

Big Bill is legend for plugging the traitor

Kevin O’Higgins along the Boostertown Road—

Bang! Bang! Bang! Not an ounce of lead

whizzed past the bastard’s head!

Well, Dos begged to be posing a photo

with Big Bill, who’s a genuine Gaelic hero—

amnestied by de Valera himself—

someone to do a family proud.


The Westie Merrow’s great curse

wasn’t drink, but cadaverous-long life.

With the grippe again, high athwart my windpipe,

I am wheezing the last pearly chords

of my Anglo-concertina.

So I’ve enclosed a birdwatcher’s guide

with my life-list of birds—200-plus of Irish-types

and 18 of France, the French ones journaled

during a hasty trip to Brittany, taken after your Da

skittered away to Maine and the over-generous bosom

of your lamentable mother, may the Blessed Magdalene

redeem her coal-dark soul.


Last to list was a scraggly Black Stork, strayed

from Balkan shores, espied last March,

as the boil-cheeked postulant rolled me out

along our daily “stroll,” so-called. Silly thing,

she’d snap her vows like summer beans

and elope with the car boy, could he hazard

a sober look at her.


A Wild Goose such as yourself

might wire the fare for Second Class

and I’d sail for Boston by fall. Once there,

should I hack my death of whooper’s cough

amid a ferocious Yankee gale,

spin me in my grave so I look across the waves

toward the cockled shores of West Sligo,

where the wet nurse of W.B. Yeats

hectored me to speak a civil tongue, and where

your precocious cousin Billy, bare a lad of 8, topsied

the cart of the fruit monger, sending cantaloupes

careening ’round the soot-blackened stones

of the market square, so peckered was he

by the price of Yorkshire plums.

Greg Rappleye’s work has appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and other literary journals. His second book of poems, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His third book, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), was first runner-up for the Dorset Prize and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series.