Dirge – Jackson McCarthy

By August 18, 2020 August 11th, 2021 2020 runner up

The women in my family


We are born from strong women.

From the boat to new lives,

Cold water, knocking knees, loose jaws, beads of sweat and bright red faces,

“She never saw her home”.

Women who looked after six kids by herself,
and worked in the old hotel with the staircase that echoes.

Kathleen kept the orange plate with the fruit in her kitchen. Every Sunday after dinner the
family sat down for pink ice cream sandwiches,

She felt like home.

Women who could never go to university and loved writing poems.

Women who were colourful and unafraid. Who cooked, cleaned and sewed.

“Come here Richard, Grant, Rebecca, whoever you are”.

She used to watch the sheets billow in the wind when she hung the washing out. Blues,
pinks, and florals running into the air.

Kathleen rode side-saddle and got married at 16,

And drove an old morris minor that could be heard from a mile away.


We are born from women who never gave up.

Who worked oil from the olive in 40 degree heat, black skirts clung to her like fog to the

Women who were tired but never stopped.

Goats, donkeys and thyme.

She had 8 children she prayed would never forget the blue of the Adriatic sea,

or the feeling of the smooth beach pebbles digging into your feet.

Who had a photo of the pope pride of place in her kitchen. Who said a Hail Mary every night
for her husband across the world.

Shared whispers with friends on red door steps and always stopped when she heard the
church bells.


We are born from women with smiles wide and warm like the asphalt on Walker Road.

These are the women who waved their husbands off to war.

Red handkerchief, gripping her youngest son’s hand, shaking palms, the green of his cap,
the noise of the train as it disappeared into the country and the thick black smoke like a drag
of a huge cigarette.

Women who gave us our names. Our first gifts. Who gave us our sunset at 5.30pm hair.

She was married on Christmas day 1935. A white gown and her mother’s pearls. Pink and
red peonies. The smell of the new leather shoes her father brought.


We are born from women who were creative. Who loved to sing and play the piano,

Sunshine spun into the air.

We are born from women who always did what they thought was right,

sent their kids to good presbytarian schools and never did anything on a Sunday.

Worked the Auckland Festival serving suppers to lawyers with red bowties.

Long hair tied up tight on top of her head, with careful fingers.

Yellow car, yellow blouses and sunflowers. Yellow like the autumn leaves and the lemon tree
that grew in the front garden.

She moved to Hong Kong,

the sour smell of the fish markets and cheap alcohol that filled the streets.

We are born from women who loved.


Xavia Hayward
Year 13
Marist College, Ak


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