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.