Figures from the Famine

by Heather Hallberg Yanda


after sculptor Edward Delaney’s work on the famine sculpture
    later placed in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland


He will make their skin
with gauze, its poor fit

appropriate for starvation.
He will make their hands lifeless, fingers

that remember the enormity
of the empty earth, that know

the sanctity of forgetting. They
must be inexact because they stand

not for one person but for many. He must not
make them beautiful. He will reshape

the faces many times: as his thumb
makes a cheek's hungry imprint, he

notes his own scars, wants to show
how skin remembers its dark

history. Layer and layer
he casts wax and sand—years

stacked into a decade. His strong
tools will make them vulnerable, and fire

will empty them, as if
again. He promises to fill these spaces

with bronze, to give memory its
solidity, to build up

that which represents
a withering away.

Heather Hallberg Yanda teaches in the English Department at Alfred University, in the hills of Western New York. She has poems published and forthcoming from such journals as Comstock Review, Banyan Review, and The Yale Journal of Medical Humanities. Late Summer's Origami, her first collection, was published by Ashland Poetry Press in 2020; she is looking for a publisher for her second collection, What the Stones Borrowed.