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
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.
Macbeth had a witches problem,
but that hardly made him unique.
It’s true that Scottish witches
are more difficult to deal with
than those of much of the rest
of Western Europe, something to do
with being under English dominion
for so damned long that Erse
is a nearly forgotten tongue,
but you’d think a General would
at least speak the local lingo.
Still, you have to wonder
just how things could have
turned out if only he had
a pair of ruby slippers
to get him back to Inverness,
for an afternoon dip in the Loch.
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 . . .
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.