Sean Arthur Joyce

—on the occasion of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s public apology on
February 24, 2010 to the 130,000 poor children taken from their families
in the UK and sent to British colonies to work as indentured servants
between 1869-1967.

You say you’re sorry. Thank you. It only took
seventy years to say it, but better late than never.
I’d throw my arms around you
and moisten your face with grateful tears
but global warming moves at its own pace
to thaw the ice jam in my heart. You say you’re sorry

you sent hundreds of thousands of boys and girls
to face a blank slate so stark and broad
you couldn’t cross it without realizing—
some nightmares aren’t half as wide. Sorry
the little digits of surplus population
had to cower in freezing farmhouse attics
and chip the dawn fires from ice. Sorry

so many of them were worked
like dray horses fed on slurry
’til they dropped from exhaustion. Sorry
some were attacked by sweat-crazed
farmers with pitchforks, and little girls
sixty miles from any sign of hope
were backed into corners by old men
left alone far too long. Sorry

some families never heard from them again,
and grandchildren don’t know
the meaning of family beyond the end
of a long driveway trailing a question mark
into the gaping green world. Sorry
the men and women these orphans became
lived inside secret monasteries of shame,
burying their silence in closed caskets.

I understand it took the guts of a lion to stand up
and finally do the right thing when generations
before you were too cowardly to do so.
Ancestors tell me healing goes both forward
and backward in time. So bravo! Let the healing
dances begin!
But you’ll forgive me
if I don’t skip a Connemara jig
or whirl a Yorkshire reel to celebrate

just now. See, I’ve known your kind before
and I’ll know them again. And I’ll never know
whether an apology is meant as ointment
for the heart or a strategy to weaken my knees
for the next blow. At the centre of my heart is a hole
the size of Vancouver—a chasm
with no name, only faint echoes
of a tundra emptied of people.

Sean Arthur Joyce is better known in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada as Art Joyce for his popular newspaper columns and books on local history, A Perfect Childhood, and Hanging Fire & Heavy Horses. Joyce has been a freelance journalist since 1990, working most recently as a reporter and Arts and Culture Editor for the Valley Voice, one of the last independently owned newspapers in BC. (

Joyce’s poems and essays have appeared in Canadian Author, The Fiddlehead, Whetstone, The New Quarterly, Acumen (UK), CCPA Monitor, New Orphic Review, Horsefly and others. In 2006 he appeared in an international anthology, The Book of Hopes and Dreams, featuring work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Margaret Atwood. The anthology was a fundraiser for UK charity Spirit Aid for child victims of war in Afghanistan. His limited editions imprint, Chameleonfire Editions, has published poetry collections by Timothy Shay, Chad Norman, Catherine Owen and Margaret Hornby. (

New Orphic Publishers of Nelson, BC published his first major collection of poetry, The Charlatans of Paradise, in 2005. Poet Mick Burrs wrote of that book: “We still have our 21st century successors to Blake, Shelley, and Wordsworth, poets not afraid to criticize civilization while they celebrate the natural world. Joyce belongs to this tradition.” Joyce’s second book of poetry with New Orphic, Star Seeds, was released during National Poetry Month in April 2009. (

(author retains copyright)