from The Gold Thread

The Changeling

Testimony of Johanna Kennedy Burke at the trial of Michael Cleary for the murder of his wife, Bridget Boland Cleary, 1895

Are you a witch, are you a fairy, / Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?
Schoolyard rhyme, County Tipperary

Picture her now, no sheehoguey thing
spirited from the mountain by fairies
to cough and curse down her husband’s house.

But neither my cousin Bridget.  One
gold earring still in place, black stockings
on her charred legs, the rest a burned sack

of meat and bones.  I never liked her,
I admit.  Dress-proud.  She made herself
the word on every gossip’s tongue but

even I could see that a chest cold
does not mark a woman for murder
unless that drunk Jack Dunne is called in,

and what did Michael expect from him,
a fairy doctor, but “That is not
Bridget Boland”?  I think of her now,

the fevered face, her fear when she pulled
me down to the pillow to whisper,
“He’s making a changeling of me.”  I

saw only tuberculosis, blood
on her mouth, and if her husband was
brutal, well, I saw only the bed

she had made and would have to lie in.
Forgive me, I was asleep when he
doused her with the paraffin, I should

have seen it would come to that, the fire
was in his hand by the time I waked.
A chemise catches quick, and he was

mad, I could see it in him, belief
that she’d return as she was before,
healthy and strong, from some place under

the hillside, though to look at him here
you’d never think he was anything
but a space of silence.  I study

the shadow of Slievenamon even
now from the window of my kitchen.
One day, it’s a graveyard, dark, the haunt

of ghosts, gypsies, the Fenian knights,
and then it is nothing, a green bank
of cornfields, mirror of passing clouds.