Unlike the cockles and mussels she peddles–alive, freshly-plucked from a salty stew of sand and sea–Dublin’s sweet Molly Malone becomes a ghost by the end of her song.
“She died of a fever,
And no-one could save her,
Just like her mother and father before.
Now her ghost wheels the barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying “Cockles And Mussels, Alive alive Oh!”
Molly’s refrain also made an appearance in Carol Ann Duffy’s “Midsummer Night“:
“Not there when a strange bird sang on a branch
over our heads, you
and me, or there when a starlit fruit ripened
itself on a tree.
Not there to lie on the grass of our graves, both,
alive alive oh. . . .”
Not long ago I had another one of those days . On my way back from work, as I traveled the congested highways which used to take me to a different house filled to the brim with family–a husband who had been with me since I was a teenager and our four children–I asked the empty passenger seat for a hint of an answer to my question: What do you want me to do now?
As is now customary, I got a musical response.
Just to be certain, I pressed the button for the next station, and it replayed the same song, which I had never heard before that day: “I’m Alive.”
This song was a little bit unusual, as far as my messages go, because it was accompanied by irresistible merry whistling.
Usually you’re not that heavy-handed, Jim. I observed.
Surely it is a hallmark of grief to continue to be startled that one is “alive, alive,” when someone you have loved in life is not–not there, as in Duffy’s poem, to hear and see that strange bird overhead or see grass strewn with soft feathers shed from cygnets intertwined under their parents’ protective eyes; not there to have summer skin warmed by the sun and stung by the season’s buzzing creatures; not there to leave a winding chevron of footprints beside mine in seaweed-strewn sand.
But, as with the resoundingly earthly avowals of another notable Molly from Dublin, somehow life looks and sounds like this.