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.
I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will. I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland, but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,
I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood of the vanquished must have flowed in this war and that, for Europe is a place of wars, the perpetual gameboard for the greedy and those who imagine themselves emperors.
I come from a distant place, where three wars on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will freely give others the wars they have grown altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.
And perhaps that is our failing, for we know war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel at the destruction we will never know first hand.
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 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 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.
It is just that sort of summer day when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly across the city, peering down, as if wishing they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen. On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now, claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan, the clouds build and flee without ever pausing to peer down on the carnage below. They want only to move on, continue the passage, give endless chase to the sun, certain they will fail and fall, only to take up the chase again onward into eternity.
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.
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.
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.