With the stroke of a pen, they enabled me to write the story, gave a framework on which I could hang all manner of dreams and assumptions, inviting a search I never quite got around to making.
I wandered the beaches of Estoril in my dreams, stalked the avenues of Lisbon, looking for a familiar face, but found only ghosts.
With the stroke of a swab inside my cheek, a vial of saliva mailed, the story came apart, and a new story slowly unfolded, gone forever was Iberia, replaced by Scotland and Ireland, Wales, Norway and Germany, and my dreams were filled with the music of the bodhran and Highland pipes.
Walking down the helical road, untwisting as you go you discover places you never imaginged visiting, nothing like the path you thought you knew well.
Stop and claim your new heritage, find yourself on an alien map, bury yourself in books of new and ancient history.
Pause here and consider a King of Scotland, knights and lords, in the far distance know that you claim a link to a man so honored that he died by hanging, but was then beheaded and drawn and quartered.
Too late to unswab your cheek, so simply enjoy your ride.
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.