Poem for Saint Pat’s

Kate Bernadette Benedict

The Washer at the Ford From a Celtic Tale


Young man,
if you must cross the river,
cross it here,
at the shallows,
at the place of clear water.
Your piebald horse agrees.
She takes a long slurp
and steps forward.

Why do you rein her?
I am an old woman,
not pleasing to look at,
my wild hair no longer black,
my gnarled hands raw
with all this laundering.

You, though!
You are a big handsome fella—
jaw like a sharp crag at Moher,
honey hair,
a goodness about you like honey.
You’ve not been shaving long,
would be my guess,
yet you’re off a’ soldiering.
What war is it this time, then?

On your way, lad.
Don’t bore me.
I’ve no time for questions.
It’s better you don’t know
whose linen it is that wants washing
or why the water
around these rocks
turns suddenly red.


Originally published in ELF (Eclectic Literary Forum), 1992 and in Here from Away, 2003