CASTLE HARLECH

High on the battlements
of Castle Harlech
the winter wind cuts through me
like scythes slashing the grasses
in the meadows that roll out
toward the distant, mute hills.
The plaintive cry of bowmen
whose bones are dust taken
deep into the Welsh soil
are whispers lost in the wing sweep
of the circling starlings.
I turn to the moss crusted stones
and beg them to tell
of all they have seen
but they sit silent, defiant.
It is only the occasional
bleat of the sheep, grazing
in the ill sheltered keep
that sounds in answer.
Ask us, they say, we have
many tales to tell
but the screech of the lone gull
begs them be silent.
In the dining room of the Plas Café
stealing warmth from the coal fire
I am the sentinel, ever watchful
over the sleeping sea.

ADOPTING A NEW SELF

At some level, he always knew. It was what he hoped, but he had given up hope. He was glad when he was Portuguese, imagined himself on the beach at Estoril or Cascais. Imagination was free and unfettered, and he was a bronze god in those dreams, chiseled of flesh, wanted by all. You don’t imagine yourself short, barrel-chested, hairy and aging, there is no romance in that. He was happily Portuguese. You are happily anything really, after years of being nothing. He knew there was no hope of meeting his father. He knew he saw his father every morning. It was the only reason he considered looking in the mirror. Otherwise he hated mirrors. They refused to lie to him, to bend to his will. Actually they lied all of the time, for he knew the old man he saw wasn’t him, couldn’t be. It didn’t matter, he was finally connected to the land, plucked from the ether of ignorance. He was, in a word, cognito, and this suited him.  It was early evening when the word came. You are not what you think. Estoril is a place to go only if you want to feel alien. The streets of Lisbon deny you. Your imagination has betrayed you. But listen, carefully. Do you hear the highland pipes? Do you taste the Talisker, the Oban, do you see the sky from Skye? For this is who you are, the person you always wanted to be but could not. But were. Now about that kilt . . .

ORPHAN

I was a foundling
wandering from Guinness Stout
to Ouzo and back,
in search of identity.
In Schul I would cry out
to Him asking, “Who am I?”
and He would answer,
“you are, you are.”
The balalaika
of my mother’s grandfather
sounded tinny,
a cacophony lost
in Oporto, Lisboa.
On the streets of Vienna
I thought I saw him, and ran
to find only shadows.
In villages along the Douro
he disappeared
into fields shorn
for winter’s approach.
The Capitol’s penumbra
found him laughing,
reflected in my mirror,
staring at my thinning hair
slowly whitening.
I was of all places
and of none until
on Glasgow’s streets
I walked his steps
and smelled the Clyde
and Talisker, his breath mine.

SEASIDE VILLANELLE

The ocean wind swept through the city
a sudden rain washed sidewalk, shop and street,
carried both dreams and sins back to the sea.

For the young child, time slid by easily,
life a campaign that allowed no retreat.
The ocean wind swept through the city,

rattled church windows, so that all could see
the priest stripped of dogma.  Christ on pierced feet
carried both dreams and sins back to the sea,

cast them to the waves, as if once set free
both dreamer, sinner would avoid hell’s heat.
The ocean wind sweeps through the city,

whispers to the rich man, “what will you be
at the end of this life, when bitter sleep
carries both dreams and sins back to the sea.

When you are buried deeply in the peat
will we see your face in the turf fire’s heat?”
The ocean wind sweeps through the city,
carries both dreams and sins back to the sea.

CLIFDEN MORNING

They were meanderers, gypsies of sorts, but never Tinkers, never an lucht siúil. They never travelled far, preferring the comforts of where they called home. They knew they wheren’t liked, weren’t really welcome here. They would be tolerated here perhaps, never fully accepted in good company. But they’d grown too numerous to ignore. They walked slowly across the street, meandered. It wasn’t clear where they were headed, they gave no indication. They liked the privacy of their thoughts. Perhaps to the Pharmacy, but Market Street was the long way there. It might have been to Manions, but their ever so black faces said they’d be less than welcome in the public house. I paid them no real heed until they began following me. I turned, stepping off Market off the curb and into the street, turned,  scratched the ewe behind her ears. I tried to tell her that a Scottish blackface had no business in the heart of Connemara, but a quick swipe of her tongue on my hand told me otherwise.