Thursday, March 17, 2016
This morning I logged on to the Oxford Online Dictionary to check the definition of “marketing” because I thought I might write about Donald Trump again and I saw that the top five trending words for today were:
The fifth one stumped me so I looked it up in the OED and read that it was an archaic noun meaning a peasant or man of low birth. I checked the Urban Dictionary and got another definition: "A man of unparalleled sexiness, hung like a donkey and a god in the sack. Can pull women in his sleep and is completely oblivious to his own sexiness and magnetic pull with women." I still don’t know why this word is trending but I’m satisfied that it somehow fits with the others.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2016, the trending words in my favorite dictionary stunned me. No. That’s wrong. I wasn’t astonished or shocked, although I wish I had been. I noticed. That’s all. I took note that these are the words we are looking up this morning. I noticed and then I shuddered.
Seeing that the algorithm puts fascism at the top of the list has messed with my Irish/French/Austrian/Spanish/American spirits too much to attempt poetry today, but I want to put some of my own poems out there on this Irish-side day, so here are three poems I wrote on other days. The first two were published in Sheldon Lee Compton's Revolution John (“James and Martin” was titled “Ancestry.com” then) and the third was published in Bryan Monte's Amsterdam Quarterly.
James and Martin
The Liverpool census of 1851 lists him:
“Thirteen years old, Irish. Occupation: beggar.”
Only that. I will do more for him.
I’ll see him in weary cotton pants and thin jacket
singing those his Da taught him about Dublin city streets,
Galway Bay, the cliffs of Dooneen, the Rose of Tralee.
I’ll give him a pure tenor, a brother clicking bones,
keeping good time to his brother’s sweet voice though he’s tuned
to the doings in the alley, his freezing feet, the hunger eating his belly.
Two stevedores march now past the boys, making for a night on the docks.
Their clothes gray and their caps grimy, they’re worn, silent men
who have no time, money, or even a listen to give them.
Here is an English coming through in his long wool coat.
His hat is a gentleman’s hat. The boys eye him slow, stop. The bones
never falter though the young one’s heart is with the stranger’s good boots.
The tune over with, the beggars wait, hands hanging, heads down.
“I’m also a musician and I thank you for your music. Go get food, go home,
rest your fingers, your voice.” He hands each a copper penny and on he goes.
And so James and Martin, with the ready for meat pies, can quit for the day.
I’ve gathered up these boys from the fine cursive of the Liverpool clerk,
given them music, food, a kind stranger. Tomorrow I’ll give them warmth.
Strength & Luck
There’s no food in Ireland for Patrick Kennedy.
He slogs with the other starving over the wintry road to Kingston port,
hands the man his bit of coin earned working with the lordship’s horses.
He’s up the gangway to ride the groaning bucking ship across the Irish Sea.
Freezing in the open air he hears screams from the freezing below decks.
A rotten beam has cracked, shattered, broken the back of a mother.
The damn ship docks in Liverpool with sloppy, exhausted triumph.
Then he’s in amid the shoving, bellowing, crying mass of countrymen lost
in the dirty alleys snaking from wharf to dark city. A churchwoman offers
bread and weak ale, saving him for the day he supposes. He’s that hungry.
He sleeps in a heap where he stumbles, dreams his father is still lively.
An English pulls him back to the docks, hires him, and so he’s a stevedore—
him, a boy whose life had been stallions, mares, and colts.
Liverpool smothers in coal ash and fear’s roiling anger.
When Patrick’s had enough of the place and the place has had enough
of him, he scrimps the fare, gone low for the thousands and for the shipping lines wanting to carry them, boards a steamship bound for New York City.
At least it’s what they’re saying.
He can’t read the paper ticket, but he’s paid for it and takes his chances.
The crossing is hell plain and simple, the only good being the end of it—
a hundred or so poor souls with typhus ferried to hospital on Ward’s Island.
His luck with him or so he thinks, he stumbles down the gangplank.
A cursing bastard in uniform grabs him by the neck, pushes him onto a cart.
By sunrise he’s in uniform himself. Patrick’s a private in the Union Army. Whatever the hell it is, whatever the hell the fight is about,
he holds a rifle and wears boots—he is in it now.
Because Patrick Kennedy survived the potato famine
the refugee frenzy in Liverpool
the rats aboard the City of Manchester
and the American Civil War to raise a family with Catherine, née McCarthy,
I am here to write these things down about my great-great grandfather,
born in Dunganstown, Wexford County, Ireland, 1836,
dead in Richmond County, Staten Island, New York, 1888.
My Great-Uncle Jerry, A Villanelle
Jeremiah Sherwood was Irish, Catholic, and gay.
From young man to old man he joked and he lied—
with his faith, with his family, he had no other way.
When “Jere” took a drink, my Grandma would say,
he linked arms with trouble; they’d stroll side by side.
Jeremiah Sherwood was Irish, Catholic, and gay.
He was a Milk and Egg Man—his families would pay
on time when they had it; some bills he’d let slide.
Through Depression and War, he saw no other way.
To me he looked like Astaire in his day—
he knew how to soft-shoe, I’d try alongside.
Great-uncle Jerry was Irish, Catholic, and gay.
At seventy-two he first went to AA,
got sober, stayed sober right up till he died,
our family’s tap-dancer, jokey his way.
Born to immigrants flung to New York with the tide,
he stuck to the rules. I don’t know if he cried—
Jerry Sherwood was Irish, Catholic, a closeted gay,
in our faith, in our family, he had no other way.