Skunkinroadsday’s Childe

Batteries on desk: 3

Hats in office: 4

Days to Santa Fe: 2

Eyeglasses on desk: 3

Hawk feathers on desk: 1

Books to read: 3

Parent phone calls made: 1

Chapters of novel on desk to edit: 1

Pints of McConnell’s ice-cream bought: 1

Deer seen this evening: 1

Skunks in middle of road coming home: 1

Non-stop lecture time tonight by instructor: 100

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Feast of the Epiphany::

The clouds above the Dublin Mountains are singed cotton balls and the rose bush branches tremble in the North Wind Mam hates so much. The lawn is a frozen square of muck, white frost crusted on the few blades of grass left standing.

We tramp up the Rathgar Road to the shops and pass the orange workman’s shelter beside the primary school I don’t attend because we’re not Protestants. Mam says something about the transients wasting the taxpayer’s money playing cards and supping tea all day long. One of the workmen is fixing some gadget outside the shelter, and she says “Good morning.”

At the traffic lights, a blind man taps his white stick against the curb, and I wonder if there are holes where his eyes should be. She tells me to stop staring. When we get into the gourmet shop, she asks the shopkeeper for some brown sugar, the kind with large granules. He smiles and rubs my head before pointing out the sugar, which is cramped in a corner behind a basket full of stinky cheeses.

“It’s to baste the ham,” she says.

He nods, and says, “Sure you’ll be pleased as punch with a ham covered in that demerara sugar.”

In the ordinary shop, Mam buys a tin of Robin’s Starch, the one with the little bird on the can. When I ask why she needs it, she says it’s so she can whiten the dirty underpants, because they’re getting a bit musty. Da’s underpants are huge things, like ship’s sails, white and wide. There’s a slit where his mickey goes, but mine don’t have that slit. Maybe when I’m a bit older.

After the shops we go to the Church of the Three Patrons to say a prayer for the black babies in Africa who are starving to death. It’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and bright yellow and white bunting flaps from the church railings. When we get outside again she tightens the scarf around my throat and pulls the collar of my coat up around my ears. The East Wind cuts into us as we push against it toward home.

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This Year’s Voyage

The still form of the fallen bird, feathers ruffled in place as at the exact moment of death. The world is a private one, the container of secrets and shames, of reputations and damage done over years, of stark landscapes and icy skies. Paper treasures store memories like holdfasts on coastal rocks buffeted by storm waves and wild surf. The toast was to a new year of straight roads and gentle swells of pastureland as far as the eye can see. Home is a broken nose, the ridge offset and the shadow of damage contained in profile. No more to creep the streets, head bowed, shame a relentless badge of failed marriage and crushed spirits. The old clothes of the recently interred year are shed, the soil and insects already working the weave to return the material to compost. This time should be one where to act is the better path to tread, the dead-end of inactivity and passive reply a closed-off street. In the morning light the dead bird is still, yellow beak and feet cold and brittle. The nare contains blood, a speckle, perhaps a byproduct of a hawk’s attack from above. Mothers recede in the dawn, their white hair thinner and washed gold spun in the lamplight. Change is the washrag with which I shall wipe away those sins of past days, the bitterest almonds stinking of deathlove and the peel of a thousand oranges decaying in the barrel. Maybe it is time to let the dog wag its tail instead of the other way round. God and cheap brandy, fur-lined gloves and shorn fields, empty cabins and plump pillows are the watchwords for writer’s tears and dropped phone calls from home. Alive and at sea, the sails billow with fresh winds from the east and towards those distant drumlins the small craft breaks the waves, her proud prow and oiled oar-locks renewed for the voyage ahead.

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Manifesto 2015

  • Write in the pre-dawn quiet, before children awaken and the owl returns from the hunt.
  • Make your own ink with the crushed petals of wildflowers.
  • Sit cross-legged at the shore and collect the words as they break in the wash.
  • Gather flicker and hawk feathers and save them in glass jars.
  • Make breakfast from the still-warm eggs of speckled chickens.
  • Take notes in the margins of favorite books.
  • Crush coffee beans in the mortar & pestle.
  • Lie in the dark and listen to the rain falling on the roof.
  • Walk the avocado groves looking for lost ideas.
  • Sleep with a notebook and pen by the bed to capture fragments of dreams.
  • Write to your mother of the ordinary wonders of your everyday life.
  • Tell your children stories of your childhood.
  • Make sure the stories you write spring from the split-seam of your exposed heart.
  • Cherish the disappointments as you travel the path to success through the forest of failures.

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A Holiday Story—”Cold Boned & Dead”


Appeared originally in Metazen’s 2012 Christmas E-Book:

Cold-boned & Dead

The tree is a Nobilis, because Mam says it sheds fewer needles on the carpet. We tie it to the top of the car with twine and drive it home in the rain; Mam and the Old Man in the front seat, me in the back reading the Topper. The Old Man declares it, “foul weather,” and the windscreen wipers “thup” rhythmically as we navigate the city streets. As we drive past Biddy Mulligan’s pub in the Liberties, the Old Man launches into the song, his tenor filling the car, “You may travel from Clare to the County Kildare, From Dublin right down to Macroom, But where would you see a fine widow like me, Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe, me boys! Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe!” Mam hums along beside him, her wedding ring clicking on the dashboard.

At home we get out the boxes of decorations from the pantry under the stairs where they’ve lived since last Christmas. Mam calls the triangular space “the pantry,” but Mrs. Toomey up the road has a real pantry, with windows and a glass door. Her pantry is stuffed with only food and drink. Ours is the place where things go to die. On a shelf at the back, cardboard boxes gather, filled with old clothes that no longer fit, and photograph albums of ancient black-and-white snapshots of dead relatives and friends resting in perpetuity.

The fairy lights uncoil on the carpet like the skeleton of an ancient reptile. Painted glass balls frosted with sparkles sit in tissue paper, some of them shattered into small pieces, some spared. Other decorations attach to the tree limbs with pipe cleaners, elves perch precariously above the steel bucket that holds the trunk in place. The Old Man fills the bucket with soil from the flowerbed in the back garden and sets the tree-stump inside it. He believes in shortcuts and prefers to lean the tree in the corner, instead of anchoring it properly to something.

Mam shakes her head and covers the exterior in last year’s wrapping paper, making sure to put the ripped bits at the back. This method works well for the most part, mainly because our old white cat, Moses, the one who scaled the tree after an elf the previous year, is now buried in the shadow of the garden shed. Now there’s no need to police the house to ensure the cat doesn’t topple the tree.

We took the cat in when we arrived here from the country. It had belonged to the previous owners of the house and they’d left it here because they were moving overseas. Mam is too polite to say she’s glad the cat had died, but I know she didn’t like it much. We only kept it because it sat outside the backdoor and cried for a week until we let it in and fed it. Mam is from the country and has strong views on issues like cats and pasteurization, but she’s a softie underneath and wouldn’t see the cat homeless.

With the tree trimmed, the Old Man declares it to be “game ball,” with a wink. Mam unfurls the paper-chains and I steady the chair as he ties them to the chandelier in the center of the room. When he stretches the colored chains into the corners they remind me of the hospital decorations from when I had the nephritis. On the mantelpiece, Mam places a sprig of holly with shiny red berries in each of the Waterford crystal vases. She carefully unwraps the tiny Christmas tree she brought me in hospital and places it on the table next to the Old Man’s armchair. The snowmen’s arms are made of pipe cleaners and they wear crooked smiles like the tinker who drives the horse and cart up the avenue looking for scrap iron every few months.

By teatime the space beneath the tree overflows with packages wrapped expertly by Mam, because the Old Man is no good at that kind of thing, and he’s already into the Jameson’s like a ship in a bottle. This year I want a guitar, so I can be like Eric Clapton in Cream, and every night when I say my prayers I ask God to grant my wish. I know that my wanting a guitar is unattainable because I heard them fight about how small the Old Man’s pay packet is on Fridays. Every weekend he comes home and hands the brown envelope to Mam and she sorts the notes into a pile and hands a few back to him so he can walk up the road to the ‘Diggers for a pint.

I lie by the fire and read a comic, the lights twinkling, the room transformed into a treasure cave. Mam and the Old Man are in their armchairs. He reads the horse racing reports for Saturday’s races in Fairyhouse and she punches holes in a sheet for her electric knitting machine. Even the Elves on the tree seem content, sheltered from the terrors of the cat, cold-boned and dead in the garden.

 

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Giftsofconseqnencesday’s Childe

The house is over-warm, seasonal temperatures ridiculously high and the winds exacerbate the heat. Dog asleep by the lit tree, the “Indie” Christmas mix mind-numbs each beating heartbeat. No gifts bought. Three days to Christmas. The toddler sleeps an afternoon nap after a quick visit to the old Mission where we saw the manger with its live animals and the church itself, rebuilt post-earthquake, reliquaries and carved statues everywhere. Ho. Ho. Ho. There are no answers in the holy water, brimful and clear. Prayers for family members near and far. Hard for the toddler to say, “Amen.”

Pens and books and the rasping buzz of the washer/dryer exacerbate the hipster’s soundtrack. Names of fruit trees appear on Post-It notes: D’Arcy Spice & Granite Beauty. Tweed hat sits angular from the desk lamp, the desk lamp without a bulb. “It’s the hap, hap, happiest time of the year…” Bullshit and  bromides. Family 5000 miles away, the cold Atlantic between. Mother sits in state in a living tomb where all her obvious needs are met by smiling staff. Hallelujah. Joe Cocker’s dead and they can’t decide whether he was a genius or a wasted talent. He doesn’t care any more.

A magazine I wrote an article for sits on the floor. Haven’t cracked the spine. Fluff and nonsense. This is the year of saying no. This is the year of taking apart the fountain pen and cleaning the inner workings. They do that with the human body, too. Tag the right limb, or the correct insertion point. Sharpie—the surgeon’s best friend. Plucking of strings. Simpering song sung badly. A lighthouse caught in a swift hurricane. Paint the body. To war, to war, to war we go. Possibly the worst Christmas song ever.

A flash of electric blue. Jay in narrow garden. In the shade he plots some nefarious act. Clipper ships far to sea cut through vast swaths of water. Land of the Pygmy Mammoth. Islands are orphaned children, cut from the same cloth, yet different. A small hut whose walls are padded with dried moss to keep the winds out. Cobwebbed windows, splintered chairs, three cracked panes. Only the mice seem to notice. Things for both of us to create. Uaigneas agus buaine. The old ways are departed, the days shortest when we need light the most. And a little T.S. Eliot to end the day:

The Journey Of The Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

 

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