THE RUNES

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.

A PEN FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

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.

THE LADIES

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.

FINDING

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.

DACHAIGH

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.

DISCOVERING ME

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.

A NIGHT AT THE ROSE

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 FACT OF ADOPTION

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.

NO MONSTER HERE

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.

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 . . .