For the twentieth century, the Irish
have possession for more times than you would think.
Possessed by archaic words like stones
in the soiled richness of their dark speech
obstructing progress and breaking plows,
they know the blessed curse of not forgetting.
Funerals are their real celebration
of life. No one can be praised until dead,
lest the Sidhe and old gods kidnap the child.
They prefer mad to sane, drunk to sober,
celebrating the rural storied object
over the City’s speed-drugged bank routine.
But when the Irish get into money,
they become caricatures of excess—
as we see in the scat left on the land
by the Irish banks and Celtic Tiger.
As your common drunk is a failed mystic,
your entrepreneur is a Brit manqué.
Here too are the Irish women poets.
It’s now not only Heaney and Longley,
Kinsella, Carson, Mahon and Muldoon,
but Eiléan Ní Cuhuilleanáin,
Eavan Boland, Nualla Ní Dhomhnaill.
We Yanks also have those touched by Brigid.
Why should only the men be vatic bards
when there are wild sybils the gods ride hard?
My mother was too burdened holding Dad up;
it fell to me to watch, listen, and write.
My father was a drunk, preferred life in bars,
ordering a round to buy the respect,
he couldn’t earn at home with food and rent,
and when Mom nagged him, slugged her in the mouth.
Once she’d had an infected tooth removed--
her blood gushed on the red mahogany
where she’d set out the pile of bills unpaid
because of what he’d spent on getting drunk.
He slugged her in a rage; a jet of blood
shot out from her wound onto the table
and carpet she had worked herself to buy,
lace curtain Irish that she was, but disowned
for marrying a divorced Protestant--
a boom-time salesman and Depression drunk.
His karmic reward that cold winter was
pneumonia and the pain of sclerderma.
The war ended, we moved from Chicago
to LA , a city without neighbors
or Catholic relatives to define us.
Dad’s sclerderma-clawed hands hurt too much
to hit Mom, so there was an untruced peace,
and he moved out to an old veterans’ home.
The dream-drunk Irish recoil from dull life—
the old cult of heads cut off from bodies--
and Dad’s inability with money
got hold of me as I would rather write
than work for millions, speculate in land,
or be tenured as an academic.
Reading this book through shows me how I am
not truly English or American.
Americans--Beat or Black Mountain--are
more poets of open space and blind sounds;
formal verse is too rooted and contained—
flower pots instead of tectonic plates—
William Cullen Bryant and not Whitman.
They love Williams’ open typography,
Ginsberg’s flashing Gay exhibitionism,
Ashbery’s overheard attended chatter
of New York restaurant conversations,
the randomized lines, The New Yorker’s chic
preference for the prosaic poem.
No wonder I end up in Portland, Maine,
in between one West Coast and another.