Sunday, April 20, 2008

326. Ireland in October

A cold fierce rain
lashes the windows;
pulling across the curtains
as the evening draws in,
we lay more sods of turf
upon the faintly flickering,
sputtering fire, then nurse
our drams of single malt.
We listen to, for we cannot ignore,
the half-human shrieks
of the wild Atlantic winds.

I don't know, says Uncle Liam,
how much of this you can understand.

in this whitewashed cottage
planted, perversely,
on the edge of nearly nowhere
sits a four-poster bed
with sagging springs
in a room no longer used
nor visited, occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs,
wherein the procreative urge
unleashed seven generations
of this failing family.

The pounding rain, the heartless wind,
now as in times past
and in the coming days to be,
deride our aspirations;
mock our faltering, our timid
sense of connection,
our humanity.

On that bedroom wall
housed in an ancient frame
is a faded stitching sampler:
"God Bless Our Happy Home",
piously, if a little uncertainly
accomplished, by her own hand,
by Emily May MacCarthy
on October 20, 1843.
She was the fifth of eleven children
and one of the seven
who starved to death
along with her despairing parents.

In the photographs, dapper
gentlemen with large moustaches
stare into the unforgiving lens
with set expressions
of puzzled defiance; they pose,
stiffly, among tasteful studio
backdrops: a small side table,
a pillar or two, potted palms.
James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis

is stamped within an oval
in the corner: the building
still exists, the ground floor
is now a fast-food restaurant.

Wedding couples,
equally unrelaxed, stare
sightlessly from the past;
they stare at me across a canyon
of mutual incomprehension:
I could not even begin
to understand these people.
He sits, she stands,
but she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid manly shoulder.

There is another
strangely out-of-place picture
of my great-great-uncle Marteen,
shot dead in the civil war.
A cocky 24-year-old
with a cheeky grin,
he is brandishing
an enormous revolver
and smokes a jaunty cigarette.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink,
he would have cut through
the damp lace-curtain piety,
the respectability,the fear.

But the rain will have none of it:
it comes down in buckets,
it comes down in cascades.
You will never never
never be free, it says:
in this country you will
never be released.

Liam is uncharacteristically
subdued, even embarrassed:
he shifts from foot to foot, in front
of the now warm and blazing fire.

there are so many old photographs
here and there on the dresser,
even more on the sideboards:
cloche hats on smiling elegant women,
baggy suits on the gents, all caps and hats;
they grin and squint in the harsh sunlight
of those long forgotten days, sporting
fashionable shortened neckties:
my unknown, all but unknowable
dead ancestors.

A flicker of sympathy
if not of recognition
slips through
this threnody of regret.

Listen, I think I'm going to bed,
it's been a really long day, I say.
Liam frowns. An awkward
silence ensues: Emmmm ...
Listen to me. There's something
I really need to tell you.
It's about the family ....


It will keep for another hundred years