The Hag of Beara

by Susan Elizabeth Howe

She sits on her haunches, arms resting
on her knees, a shawl about her
made of whatever you see—cloud,
sheepskin, rough-spun wool, draped
seaweed.  She watches the town,
the bony hills, Mishkish behind them,
the bay, waves frothing to escape. 
Watches the moon rising, or the sun.
Salt-coated eyelashes sometimes
alter what she sees.

No wave breaking can move her,
no hurricane.  Winds that blow gulls
onto the cliffs she scarcely feels.
But the suffering—so heavy.
Only granite could bear it,
she’s become granite.  To see
the wounded wander the world,
hiding their shame.  She already knows,
has seen them crossing deserts,
oceans, and years hoping to rest
their foreheads against her shoulder.

No magic, not her deepest fiery
touch, can stop the black crows pecking
at their liver and their heart—
You are without worth, too stupid
to live, impossible that you should have
dignity, should have a home.
Unforgivable, the shame you bear.
She cannot unsee what the broken show
her, might ask why, make them see
more.  But she offers her gift.

I am like you, she says.  What happened
to you, happened to me, what you’ve done,
I’ve done.  Touch the crags of my face
to feel how I love you—earth love,
bedrock, permanent love.  After,
the pilgrims turn back, find the road
to Castletownbere and Ardgroom.
Some wash themselves in the sea,
slough off her touch.  Most carry her,
though she won’t leave her cliff,
with them along the twisting, narrow roads. 

SUSAN ELIZABETH HOWE is an emerita faculty member of the BYU English Department. Her most recent poetry collection, Salt, was published by Signature Books, and her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Shenandoah, Atlanta Review, Western Humanities Review, and other journals.  She received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Association for Mormon Letters.  She is currently the associate editor of BYU Studies Journal.  In the past, she has served as a contributing editor of Tar River Poetry; poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought; poetry editor of Literature and Belief; managing editor of the Denver Quarterly; the editor of Exponent II, and a board member of the Utah Humanities Council.  She lives with her husband Cless Young in Ephraim, Utah.  

Photo: “The Hag of Beara” by Susan Elizabeth Howe