Eating of the Soup
When An Gorta Mór seeped into the bones of Ireland’s one-room hovels, when the potato crops ate themselves, the Protestants came with cauldrons black as a sick dog’s mouth. Just beyond the spined hills mass graves that nobody was left to dig, there—a fire, a tent, sprang from the gritted earth. The tantalizing, otherworldly smell summoned the fight from barefooted wisps of men. They came forth, stumbling into the warmth of the siren’s call. Sometimes the soup in the cauldron would have herbs, even scraps of cheap meat. Forsake your God for ours, and you may eat of the soup, the preachers said in English. What they meant was—Your hunger is stronger than your shame. We shall take the last of what is truly yours and mold it into your final submission. The Crown’s calculating eradication of the Irish was a multi-headed beast. Starve the people. Evict all who can’t pay the rent. Convert those remaining so they forget their language and their roots to the land. Many men and women converted for a single bowl of soup. For some, the soup only drained their systems, inducing illness and further malnourishment. Others brought their portions to a suckling babe, or to a mother stricken with the cloying sting of typhus. But the elders, they would rather die with a Celtic cross over their breast than speak the tongue of the imperialists. My elders did not convert, and they did not die. Instead, they scrounged, probably carving up the pigs which were meant to be rent. They persisted through the Hunger, and they left for Ellis Island, with their language and their blood. Now, I sit at my kitchen table in the heart of a Maryland November. Outside the leaves shrivel and the steam of my concoction licks like eager tongues at the chilly air. Meat, quartered potatoes, boiled cabbage. A dash of salt, swirling. I strike a match and light a candle. Within my hands are the hands of a hundred ancestors who chose not to eat of the soup. Tonight, I will drink it all, until the broth is molten in my throat. There’s no need for a spoon. The soup pools at my lips, dripping from my chin. The warmth opens a chorus from within my stomach. Go raibh míle maith agat. Finally, we feast.