Hymn to Mary Maria

(In the name of the last bootmaker)

David Rowbotham

Mary Maria, mother
of us all,
I’ve found your nameless grave in pauper’s ground.
You’ve lain a hundred year’s unsung.
Whatever I dreamed as a boy, l never dreamed of you -
dead too young and by a dynasty forgotten.
Between decks in the Western Monarch
whose capes of sail billowed past Good Hope,
your Lincoln eyes were chilled by hungers of ice
that seized from your soaked breast your latest born -
like a cobblestone committed to a vision of waters
unabated as the River Bain’s in the village of your marriage,
where the tide gave back to the fens two of your first born, drowned,
and drove you to the gangplank.
You sailed fourteen thousand miles and died
in a songless shanty made by slaves.
Was yours any less a servitude
than theirs that condemned the Realm that banished them?
The dynasty you began, grew and diminished
to my father’s awl and hammer. Those long lines
of sons who shod the landscape of my boyhood with best leather
you weren’t to see delivered, distant
Eve of dereliction. The Brisbane River,
your bleak Bain borne to another mouth of magnitude,
rose to drench the tropical bed in which you starved and shivered,
calling husband, children, and for what home? -
from world to world, for what unanswered hope?
In my father’s name I offer,
and may you be warmed by, an act of dedication
at the grave I’ve bought and named in pauper’s ground,
Mary Maria, mother
of us all.

Mary Maria Rowbotham
Born Horncastle, Lincolnshire, 1843
Died Brisbane, Queensland, 1876
Aged 32