Empress of Ireland
Poems from Ste. Luce-sur-mer
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The Empress of Ireland
The poems which have come together to form the Empress of Ireland were begun in Ste. Luce-sur-mer, Quebec, in May 2002. It was off-shore from Ste. Luce, in the early hours of the morning of the 29th of May, 1914, that the Empress of Ireland collided, in dense fog, with a converted Norwegian collier whose bows had been strengthened for ice-breaking. There were approximately 15 minutes between the moment of impact (1:55 am) and the moment the Empress caught fire and sank (2:10 am). Although the disaster has received little international attention, more passengers perished in this accident (840) then in the loss of the Titanic (832) or the sinking of the Lusitania (791).
Introduction to the Empress of Ireland
Click on the link below to read an early post with a new sound recording of
A Survivor lights a candle
I first heard voices in the cries of the sea birds on the beach at Ste. Luce-sur-mer.
Borne on the wind, over the sigh of the waves, they seemed high-pitched, like the voices of children, or of men and women in distress. These were lost voices, the cries of people alone and frightened by the dark. I heard them calling to me.
That night, there were knocks at my cabin door and finger nails scratched at my window. Tiny sounds, almost beyond the range of human hearing: the snuffling of puppies when they turn over in their sleep and tug at each other, whimpering in their dreams.
I started from my sleep. But there was only the wind and the waves as the tide’s footsteps climbed a moonbeam path to ascend the beach. When I walked on the sand next day, at low tide, there was a whispering behind my back. Little voices crying to be set free.
A lone gull flew past my head and battered itself against the wind’s cage with outraged sturdy wings. That night, the mist descended. The church stepped in and out of its darkness and shadows gathered, persistent, at my door.
I walked out into the night and saw a lone heron surrounded by gulls. It was as if an adult, clamoured at by children, was standing guard over the beach. Then I saw the shadows of little people searching for their parents, the shapes of mothers and fathers looking for their off-spring, lost among the grains of sand.
Beyond them, on the headland, the church stood tall above the shadows. I saw grandmothers and grandfathers, their lips moving in supplication, kneeling before the granite cross which stands above the sea. As I approached, they turned to me, opened their mouths, mouthed silent words, then disappeared. When I went back to bed, faces and voices visited me in my dreams. When I got up next morning, they came to me in the speech of birds hidden in the foliage, in the words dropped by the osprey’s wing, in the click of the crab’s claw as he dug himself deeper into the sand.
“Speak for us!”
“Set us free!”
The words of the M Press of Ire are not my words. They could never be my words. Foundered words, they are, rescued from the beach, and dragged from the high tide mark with its sea weed, carapace, charred wood, old rusted iron, and bright bones of long dead animals polished by the relentless action of wind, sea and sand.