Sisters Of Charity
By Marilyn Nelson
Sarah Matilda White, 1853
They come in coffin ships, with little more
than faith and hunger. Ignorant, unskilled,
they seem hell-bent on making themselves less,
like prodigal sons content to live in swill.
People who have nothing will rob the poor
to feed their children. Now I lock the house
and clutch my purse, as fearful as the rich.
They’re starved of hope, desperate, and unwashed.
But I do like that flock of Irish nuns
who swoop like crows, catching truants by the ear
and marching them to school, then wake the tarts
to steer them toward respectable careers.
They are taking thousands of white fugitive slaves
who can’t imagine better lives beyond
full stomachs, work, and a hovel called home,
and teaching them to dream of a free dawn!