Ice, he said, is clearly an invention of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down version of that corner of hell of which no one ever speaks, so little known.
And stop and think, we got by well for eons without a cube of ice, unless with blade we chipped it from a nearby glacier or left water out in the dead of winter, which never worked all that well in much of the world.
Whiskey, that was one of our best innovations, one of which we are rightfully proud, one which we have practiced for untold generations. We’ve been sipping it and drinking it from the word go, and each culture has come up with its own version, and it is only recently that the devil gave us the means of denigrating one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
God, mother told us, prefers things neat, as they were intended, so clearly ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!
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.
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 father I had never seen, never known. Was 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 and McAllister’s might be kin and which Tartan I can now rightfully claim is my own.
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.
They were always almost mythological, heroes of a people I could only imagine as my own, knowing I came from a far different place, one of shtetls and pogroms, of seaside villages, the beaches of Cascais. It was half a lie, but I couldn’t know it then, couldn’t guess my dream was reality, my reality a dream torn away by DNA. In a moment my unknown Portuguese father was unborn, replaced by a faceless man of Celtic soil who marched to the piper highland or uillean, the bodhran, who stood alongside Pearse and Connolly, Bonnie Charlie, and a century on, I’ll lift a pint of Guinness in their honor, take a wee dram of Talisker and whisper Slainte to the unknown generations that brought me here.
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.
The fado fades under the weight of the Highland pipes and dreams of Cascais fade into the Scottish sky. Where once I thought of wandering Lisbon looking for my face, I imagine I see it in the Grampians, reflected off the lochs whose headwaters now feed my dreams.
One joy of being adopted is that what you imagine is not always what really is. For years, based on what my birth mother told the adoption agency, my father was “a Portuguese Jew.” DNA later showed that I had no Portuguese blood at all, and I doubt my Russell and McDonald paternal ancestors spent much time in Lisbon.