It wasn’t until I hit middle age, which on my scale will allow me to live past 100, that I discovered that cats are Celtic deep in their hearts. Our cat, she who adopted me and forced her then owner to marry me, like it or not, was in love with the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes playing had her in my lap, unmoving. But she had her Buddhist side as well, sitting zazen for hours, longer if accompanied by shakuhachi flutes. She said that cats were discerning, were connoisseurs of music loved cello, viola and violin but barely tolerated the bass. It was why, she said, all the great composers wrote for the higher strings. And, she would add, as for dogs, well they loved country music most, reason enough for pity.
Here, in these unmown fields where the morning mists gather once stood the ancient chieftain his clan assembled about him staring into the distant trees under the watchful eye of the gods. As the October winds blew down from the hills, they strode forward blades glinting in the midday sun ebbing and flowing until the moon stood poised for its nightly trek and they stood on the precipice of exhaustion counting fall brethren sacrificed to the blade of the claymore for glory of clan and entertainment of gods.
On these tired fields no chieftains stride and the mists no longer wrap the boulders left to mark nameless graves of kin. These are now ill sown fields, lying in the wasteland between chiefs who sit in silent bunkers, clansmen gathered to retell the tales of glory long vanished, to come. In these fields they till the begrudging soil and beg the gods for meager growth. As the moon begins its slow journey skyward they pause to count the craters torn into the rocky soil, and gather the bones of those newly fallen, sacrificed to the wrath of the claymores, the entertainment of the gods.
First Appeared in Main Street Rag, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2000.
It has a certain heft that says something substantial lies within, waiting to be freed. It glides easily, suggesting an effortlessness you know is a tease, that labor still waits. Still, it does said comfortably, is appealing to the eye, has the deep jade green along its barrel, the knots interwoven top and bottom that say what lies within cannot be easily unraveled. As you draw it across the page you hope that somewhere in Neamh old Robbie will look down on you, smile and share a thought or two, but that you know, is for another day.
It is an ungainly beast and its cry, as much a bleat as a roar, can pierce the air and is never easily ignored. There are far larger to be found, and far more beautiful. Some have voices that melt anger incite passion, alleviate pain. Some sing in a register so low touch and hearing are merged. Even this beast has its smaller kin, gentler, if not ever soothing, happy to fill a room, not a universe. But the great beast has always known its place, held in the arms of and cradled informal procession, carried forward into battle by the so-called Ladies from Hell.
Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.
First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000
Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon or Porto, looking into the faces of older men and wondering if this one was my father, the one I had never seen, never known. the one my Jewish mother described in detail to the social worker who took me from her shortly after she gave me life. It is many years later, now my mother has a face, discovered in the twisting path of a double helix, good West Virginia Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind. I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear it is a lovely city, but the faces will all be alien to me, and there I will dream of my day touring the Highlands of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which of the McDonald’s or McAllister’s might be kin and which Tartan I can rightfully claim as my own.
There is little you can do about it, less that you want to do, although they are not pleased with your decision. Remind them that they are the ones that left the decision to you, mostly in the hope you would do what they hoped, taking them off the hook, but they now realize they have been hoist with their own petard and the walls, gates they wanted breached still stand with you on the sideline watching their farce unfettered. They will not ask again and you laugh, for if they did it you would give it a try just to see the look on their faces.
It’s a fading memory now, a hole in the wall then, CBGB’s, loud, but nothing happening at Tommy Makem’s and here the cop and his pals play angry Irish with a foot in reggae and ska. I’m too old to be here, but no one really cares as long as I buy my Bushmills or Anchor Steam, and sit quietly. It isn’t 1847 but it’s just as black and when I step out in the night and flap like a bird for a cab, I hope the reverberation of the pipes will fade by morning.
Cain slew Abel in a moment of anger, a crime of passion would be his defense today. We can only imagine what Isaac might have done to Ishmael, had Hagar not been sent off by Abraham, after all he was a child who saw the knife first hand and helped sacrifice the thicketed ram. Joseph tasted the pit at his brothers’ hands mourned by his father only to emerge and forgive. It is little wonder we Semites can’t get along, Jew and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, we’ve been rehearsing this act for millennia.
First published in Children,Churches & Daddies vol. 141 (2004) and later in The Right To Depart (Plain View Press, 2008).