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Cover image courtesy of the artist, Joan Hogan

Pearl


The grit that found
its way in under your nail
turned the finger septic,

you a young girl sent over
on the boat with your brothers
to toil the dark harvest,

pickers bent over like question marks,
knuckles skinned,
trawling the ridges for tubers

only fit for sleep
after bowls of what
you'd picked, boiled,

sleeping on straw in the women's bothy
to dream of gloves
with jewel buttons, necklaces.

What happened after that
is gone with you
except that the nail abscessed,

the bed of it infected;
no oyster way to mantle it layer over layer
of nacre, reverse its taint to lustre, pearl,

instead lanced and lanced again
it lost its memory
to grow straight

but ridged and beaked like abalone
grew a further eighty years
among the perfect others of your right hand

and funny how laying you out,
the undertaker painted it
mother-of-pearl, lustrous, absorbing light.

 

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