Bobby Sands was starving himself, Mum told us.
Somewhere in Ireland, in prison.
Putting my peanut butter on white sandwich into a plastic bag,
Mum started raving on
about someone called Gandhi then,
and people who died for something.
It was mass day and when the bells rang out at eleven,
I thought of Bobby Sands
and wondered what he’d done.
By noon I was hungry. Eating my lunch
at my desk I watched Sister Gemma sink her small teeth
into a bun thick with spread.
Each day Mum read the papers, watched the news,
and reported. Bobby Sands was still starving.
Why he was starving I never really knew.
Something about England, Ireland, freedom,
her majesty’s prison, a parliament, religion,
the IRA, and Catholics who didn’t like Protestants.
At our house Mum liked everyone. We all went off
to mass each Sunday. Sometimes Mum went too.
Other times she took herself to hear Baptists sing,
Evangelicals preach, Lutherans pray.
Sometimes she went to the library.
For several weeks Bobby didn’t eat
and we went on watching him,
Mum raving to us about independence,
courage, what it meant to hunger for something.
Out of sympathy, we started fasting once a week.
Friday was Hunger Strike lunch.
Instead of a peanut butter sandwich and cookies,
I ate nothing. At noon I excused myself
to the girls’ room. Nosy Mary Ellen followed,
asking where was my food.
We’re starving with Bobby Sands, I told her.
She rolled her eyes. I wished my mother were the kind
who shopped or bowled. Instead she read and wept.
Soon everyone was asking who was Bobby Sands
and why was he starving. By day’s end
I had been called to the principal’s office
where I reported that at home things were just fine,
but that somewhere in England or Ireland,
Bobby Sands was starving to death in prison.