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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Citizen of the Irish Diaspora

Alun, Karl and I went to see the Irish fusion rock band Kíla, which inspired this poem.

Citizen of the Irish Diaspora

From the black stage rising like an altar
700 Irishmen who daily breathe in Dublin air
the length of a jig from the G.P.O.
wait for another revolution
in the shadows of 1916
700 free Irishmen
stand amidst the dark and sweat

a Guinness passport disguises me:
the intruder, the social tourist,
the American, whose Irish blood
thins the memory of Gaelic,
of Cromwell, of the Famine
that sent my grandfathers
to manifest their destiny
I hide in the dark of the crowd
only lit by refracting stage light
sliding between darkened bodies
as an ethnic chameleon
a cultural vampire returning to the source

two weeks in this country
but tonight, now,
she will welcome me back
as a prodigal émigré
but I don't know this yet

from the stage,
a postmodernist pagan altar
drumming beats
pound to Earth
in your toes
in your chest
move your feet
Finn McCool
Brian Boru

the bodhrán races a rhythm
making stillness impossible
700 Irishmen and 1,400 Éireann feet
rumble the floor
down to the wood beams
into the asphalt of this dirty old town
into the soil and stone down to the Liffey
700 moving bodies
and me between them, a shadow
close enough to speakers for the beats
shake history off my skin
but I stand motionless
an American island in an Irish Sea

the bodhrán hits its peak
and at once, seven voices
join the chorus
tin whistle cuts the atmosphere
ripping angel screams from the air
with hummingbird speed
uilleann pipe beats its way through
skin, tissue and bone down to blood
with closed eyes,
through the mist
in the polls of beating blood
my veins warm with the victorious footfalls
of an ancestral memory
the angst of 530 Irish generations
remembers this tune
born in the Bog of Allen
orchestrated the Wicklow Hills
tempered on Inishmore
battered to its core on the coast of Galway
refined on Dublin's dirty streets
while King Sitric reigned

my chest drum knows this tune from memory
while my errant mind
lost in its own arrogance
tries to decipher lyrics I couldn't understand
even if sung in English
all the lads in arms reach
comprehend that language and ethnic history
are mutually intelligible dialects

I down another Guinness to drown inhibition
I am not a stranger here
to the Irishmen on the dance floor
I'm just like them
for once, my ethnicity is not speculation
and with the right twist of vowels
I'm a linguistic chameleon too

the fiddler changes the atmosphere
playing a languishing ballad
and the simultaneous image
manifests itself without conjecture

somewhere, in hills like those I was born in
a lad like me
remembers a lass he left behind
waving farewell from a coffin ship
remembers how he caressed her once
on the shores of Glendalough
telling her he’d returned someday or send for her
but they both had heard the same before
how time ticks on oblivious to our oaths
the sea dividing Éire from everywhere
is not a chasm easily crossed
by anything larger than envelopes or dreams

America isn't like Manchester
there are no summer vacations
the Dublin docks of the ends of the Earth
Ireland is an island of no return
they know this
yet still dream of ways back from neverwhere
they dream, make love and say “goodbye, for now”
because “forever" can kill when spoken
so now, one stands in amber waves of grain
the other in fields of green fields of clover
and his fiddle says “forever” for them

the bodhrán,
the tin whistle
the pipes
the drums
the guitars
the singer escalate into dance
a jig everyone knows by heart
liquid Irish courage has penetrated my liver
split open my organs with a wash of green

poems yet unborn from my fingers
and those song, burned in cells
and passed on through genes
now meet, shake hands and join the dance

blood and organs take hostage the rest of me
skin, bones and brain
slamming limbs to where they should be
and a ragdoll I become

since my feet touched the soil
barefoot in Ballinteer
I’ve felt drawn home
but until now, the city's indifference has been deafening

the floor is pulling me under
black hardwood makes adhesive
of the beer and whiskey
tightening the floorboards to my ankles
it's getting hard to move my body
hard to move my feet
eyes close and I breathe in
the sweat and smells and wonder
of my brothers and sisters
all 700 of them
I let go of the language
understanding that Gaelic is not a foreign tongue
just a forgotten one my fathers used to speak

the beer and whiskey becomes blood of ancestors
magnetized iron on the floor
pulling the blood of my feet to join
drowning in my history
in a heartbeat
in the speed of the piper’s fingers
faster than in the space between drumbeats
I am swallowed under
the floor becomes glass
my feet leap on their own
legs and ankles dance jigs as if they wrote them
Irish rhythms explode in limbs

I am made of sunlight

from the Donegal to Wexford
the Rings of Kerry to the Hills of Tara
my sonic boom wakes Irishmen from their sleep
"one of Éire’s long-lost sons has come home"

layers of sound rise over the crowd
as if the performers doubled
the Irishmen around me
begin chanting a chorus
with fists raised in the air
and the words find themselves in my throat
I have no idea what they mean
but I pronounce them flawlessly
the Dublin boys near me
who can’t speak a lick of the "country" tongue
know I’m more Irish than they are
and the snakes St. Patrick didn’t drive from this island
are fleeing toward the sea

the crowd dances as one great creature
and limbs find the proper places between strangers
fists and feet, arms and elbows
move eloquently and 701 Irishmen
thrash to the rhythm without touching
we are one Celtic race,
one Irish tribe,
one dancing body
gyrating in unison to the myth and music
poured through the priests on stage

with Gaelic poetry pulsing through us
we spit back 700 years of Irish rage
relive the risings, revolts and revolutions
we push back the invaders and conquerors
who sought to annihilate our words with their own
we take back the island tonight
with words they thought they’d broken
our feet slam the fury of our bloodlines
into the soil for the rest of the world to hear

Ireland’s sons and daughters
are only a song and dance away from home
the mythology that bore us
the faith that sustained us
the language that united us
revive the blood bonds between us still
at last, one of Éire’s long-lost sons
has found he never left home

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