Here's a Monday meditation in honor of Joni Mitchell, honored recently with the Gershwin prize, and finally being recognized for the brilliant talent she is. She's also been an idol of mine since I first took up a guitar at age 15, and more recently, she inspired my obsession with Ireland's (and the U.S.'s) Magdalene laundries. This poem first appeared in Sheila-N-Gig.
THE MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES
Become the stone the river cannot wash away.
West of Presho, South Dakota, beyond
Chamberlain’s river bluffs, the land flattens
out to prairie again. We’re headed for the
Black Hills and her cocoon of shadows.
We’re laughing, singing with the Ipod. My
bare feet are on the dash, one hand out the
window making dolphin waves in the wind
when Joni Mitchell and the Chieftans come
on. It’s The Magdalene Laundries, with its
opening dissonant guitar and tin whistles
like mourning, like being lost at sea.
The song, this stone I’ve just swallowed,
lands somewhere too deep to name. Before
the song is over I’m crying, typing
Magdalene Laundries into my phone.
I know too much now. I follow the laundry
girls around, pathetic second cousin with
pockets full of stones, begging let me in!
Red hair is all I have of Donegal kin.
Maybe that’s why I veered down this
gorse-thorned path. Or maybe in some other
life I washed and ironed sheets in the sad,
relentless steam. Maybe that’s why I went
to Ireland, touched the ground and stone
walls, pressed my cheek against
headstones, sought every empty or
covered-over space where girls once
searched for a way out. All these years
and still the song plays, looping
somewhere in me, a jumble of stones:
One day I'm going to die here too
and they'll plant me in the dirt
like some lame bulb that never blooms
in any spring, in any spring.