When the traps beaked me, the magistrate said, Didn’t I feel no shame? Nay, sir, not for pinchin’ breads, A single woman seven months gone and desperate. Would you want me to starve? ‘Twas on the stagecoach south that the reds rushed my dialpiece. I’d only rid in a shaycart; now I was driv by four horses. Six of us morts ironed up together on top outside, iron legs dangling, Fat as hens in the forehead but stared at like we was choked throstles. People passing by cried out, Loll your tongue out at the company! And Take the earth bath, your hagships! Even starveling urchins in rags crowed and hooted such a vile sight. Irons bite into your bones like being burned in the hand. We never once had the rags off our back for that week on the rattler. Shiveryshaky with the ague, we was, cussing the bitter cold That set our teeth on edge. Aye, I knew shame then. And my cheeks was aching when I hauled mysen up the sides of the hulk, What rose up out of the mist so high in the belly in Langston Harbour. Them guards swearing like tinkers and swinging their bludgeons, Me all in a tangle of fetters. But that wasn’t the half of it. The guards stripped me of my rags and flung them over the side. They stamped on me like I were a flea or distempered, Threw buckets of salt water over my bundle of cold shivers, Pushed me down the hatches to the lowest and darkest and foulest of decks, Threatened me with them screws for thumbs and shaving my noggin, And worstest, flogging me naked afore the coves, all ogles and jeers. Aye, I were shamed. But I ain’t scared of Botany ‘cos in my fancy I’ve seen the jaws of devils. On the way down south on the roof of the rattler, I glimmered in the dark beyond the opencountry road
Red spears of flames spitting high in the sky from sides of hills And huge chimleys that belched and blacked the kens and workhouses With clouds of smoke that choked and stank of coal. And I heard the clanging din of a giant’s forge And the steady thumpthump of distant guns. At night, towns was busy as bodylice. The coachman spat into the air and growled from neath his greatcoat, That was the manufactories for yer. But all these flames and fires got me thinking on poor Cat Hayes That my grannam heard tell of, what murdered her husband, Dragged to Tyburn on a hurdle and burned to death at the stake. Burned for three hours, she did, begging and screaming, ‘Cos Jack Ketch couldn’t throttle her first. He let go the rope On account of his own arms being licked by hot flames. So there’s poor Cat wildly kicking away at burning faggots, Shrieking till her eyes popped out of her head and melted. Such sufferings be shameful indeed. One day, we morts saw a mollymop stood crying in the wooden ruff That was beat and bruised with brickbats and kids dancing round, Making curtsies and mimicking the wretch in kinchenmort voices: O, fie, sir, how can you serve me so? You’re a wicked devil! Aye, I see shame all about me. Leastways, I’m all alive, but mad as a buck! Bound for Botany. But there’s shame and disgrace in that too. Riding a rough sea brought my heart up, For when I was lyingin at Carlisle prison, My suckling babe was snatched from my breast By the parish fat Jacks what knows best, And packed off to the poorhouse to save her from her own ma, Her ragbag of a mother she’d never see no more.
February 59, 2006