Visiting Ireland a few years ago, I went to the Cobh Museum, which overlooks Cork Harbor, the point of departure for millions of Irish people fleeing the Great Famine. A large part of the museum was devoted to a stunning sensory exhibit of Irish men, women, and children forced to leave the family members and country they loved, perhaps forever.
For me, the years fell away. It was the latter part of the nineteenth century, and I was witness to the upheaval and heartbreak of people forced to separate. This effect was achieved through life-sized replicas of people in dark clothing clustered around trunks, clinging to each other, weeping, saying goodbye. On the wall were photographs. Films played. There was audio, a buzz of anguished humanity: deep-voiced authority, crying children, desperate mothers, frustrated fathers, grieving parents. There was an overwhelming sense of sound, movement and loss. Moved to tears, I wrote this poem: