Sunday, October 23, 2011

456. Ireland in October


The relentless rain
hard and cold
lashes against the windows.

We pull across the curtains
lay more sods of turf
upon the flickering, sputtering fire.

We say nothing, pay attention
to our drams of single malt.

We hear, for we cannot ignore
the half-human howling 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; it is occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs.

The procreative urge:
a man and a woman within this room,
unleashed seven generations
of this failing family.

The pounding rain, the howling wind,
in times past, now, and in the coming times to be,
deride all our decent hopes, laugh at our faltering sense
of connection, mock our humanity.


On that upstairs bedroom wall
hangs a faded stitching sampler:
"God Bless Our Happy Home",
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.

Tadgh and his brother Michael
crossed the wide and unknown ocean,
that angrily rolling sea beyond these windows,
and landed in Ameri-kay; they were lucky
to have missed the war in Mexico
and sent for their two surviving sisters.

Both brothers were killed in the Civil War,
not quite able to pay for "replacements",
and so died, bewildered, for Mr. Lincoln.

I descend from Maureen.
She was the second sister.


there are many many old photographs,
framed here and there on top of stolid furniture.
Dapper gentlemen with large moustaches.
Ladies with long dresses and wide-brimmed hats.
They stare into long-ago unforgiving lenses
with comical expressions of puzzled defiance.

At other times they pose stiffly,
arranged among the most tasteful studio
backdrops: a small side table,
a pillar or two, potted palms.
James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis
is stamped discreetly, a faded oval
in the left-bottom corner: the building
still exists, the ground floor
is now a fast-food restaurant.


In some photographs
there are wedding couples,
tense and unrelaxed, they stare
sightlessly at us from the past
across a chasm of years
we can never never even begin
to comprehend. He sits, she stands,
but she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid manly shoulder.

There is another
out-of-place picture
of my great-uncle Marteen,
shot dead in our civil war.
A cocky 24-year-old
with a cheeky grin.
He sits, brandishing
an enormous revolver,
smoking a jaunty cigarette.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink.


Then there are cloche hats
on rather dumpy women,
the baggy suits on the gents
who grin and squint in the harsh sunlight
of long forgotten days; they sport
ridiculously shortened neckties
and all seem to be having
an awfully good time:
my unknown, unknowable
dead ancestors.

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


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

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's OK, Liam. No need.
It will keep for another hundred years.