An excerpt from â€śThe Begotten,â€ť by James McMichael
Across a straggle of
waste and upland holdings,
it was the one food. Potatoes gave them
bone and sinew cheap. So
peopled did they let it be
that heritable plots kept being halved.
Marriage was to the ground.
The young were often not
seen by one another until
joined in their match.
So they could live with someone they chose,
daughters engineered their own abductions.
Landless sons were either
buried so, or they left.
Among the still unwed there were no longer
strips to share out.
Land promised that when
dug for and hale
its bulbs could be fit wards for
some few only
only for a time.
Digging was in the fall.
With the stock of them
low by late summer,
the aftermost were taken
This slowed their transfer through the body.
It let them last.
Of too little
bulk, still, were the new ones, covered one by
one in their strips.
They were looked to with the more
care this time. Each plant had
fastened to it by airborne
spores at their tips
a down of long threadlike fibers.
Those would not whisk away.
That the infestation was theirs was all
one to the plants.
Their leaves turned black.
When loosed by
hand at last from under their
the potatoes were black too. Their skins
made the tissue inside
collapse to a pulp. There was no
drying them out that they might be food.
inland for awhile on
cresses, herbs, wild cabbage,
Put off their plots by bailiffs,
cattle where they could and bled them.
grouse were caught,
as on the ground of the estates
in thickets, bramble-covered
mantraps caught the ones who poached.
Itinerants at the shores took sand-eel,
periwinkle, dulse and limpet.
Ropes lowered them to the cliffs for
seabirds’ eggs. They tramped for fluke.
There were no
songs for these labors.
Songs in the fields were for acts that hearten,
acts that daily
lend the songs cause. Depleting
daily what fed them,
they were not tilling,
With nothing to grow it in,
there was nothing to grow.
â€śThe Begottenâ€ť originally appeared in its entirety in the print version of At Length, which no longer exists. To read the whole poem, check out James McMichaelâ€™s Capacityâ€”a finalist for the National Book Award in 2006. To make sure you donâ€™t miss future poems from At Length, please sign up for our RSS feed or email list.