Searching through the 1911 census returns for Co. Kerry, looking for a needle you aren’t even sure is there to be found.

Two hours, in, you hunger for what isn’t there,
the flesh on their bones, the life behind the names.

Reduced to entries in a ledger, lines of copperplate
you could be looking at a relative, then turn the page

past your mother’s mother’s mother, or her da’
or someone who knew them, nodded as they passed

on the way to church, or standing at the bar
or as they worked the fields, watched approaching rain

blessed the day for the promise in it, bent their backs again
to toiling the earth, ditch-digging, cutting peat

who made the census-taker welcome, gave him the seat
by the fire, answered his questions in the Gaelige

and who spat on the ground when he’d gone, for marking
them down like cattle, for knowing nothing of their battle.

© Steve Pottinger.

highly commended in the Plough Poetry competition 2019

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