flypaper

windows open, summer air wafting in, a spiral of yellowed flypaper hangs from the ceiling, the dozens of corpses of flies and bluebottles stuck to the gluey paper, some still twitching, some still buzzing. that can’t have been terribly hygienic, can it? out the kitchen window, the neighbor’s marmalade tom makes his way along the wall that divides our gardens, to the roof of our coal shed where mam threw the cut-off slices of fat from the bacon earlier. as the tom reaches the roof a large black-headed seagull swoops down in a flapping of wings and picks up a thick lump of fat in its scimitar-like beak. aloft, the tom paws the air, misses, falls on the corrugated roof, tumbles into the hydrangeas, and slips away to lick the notion of bacon grease off his paw.

monday’s child…

is slacking off, avoiding submissions, drinking barry’s irish tea, poring over two large edited manuscripts for all extraneous self-referential language. if you only knew the number of times, “i, me, look, see, watch” appear in this book… can one use the personal pronoun that many times? sweet mother of jesus.

anyway. shifting directions. the wind blows towards washington d.c. and awp. now, never having been to awp before i’m concerned i’ll get tired of the milling writers and literary folk there and plan on having a good list of sorties (to museums, galleries, sights-not-to-be-missed, and assorted hostelries where hot alcoholic beverages are available at all times) for my escape hatch. i’m sure there are going to be plenty of wonderful writers and panels to pique my interest. but, just in case, i’m saying…

snippet II

Some things I know about leaving Ireland:
I won a green card in a lottery.
San Diego was my friend Mike’s idea because he thought I’d perish in the Boston or New York winters.
Mam and Dad cried their eyes out when I took the taxi to the airport.
I had $2000 cash in my pocket when I left home.
Two weeks before I left for San Diego I kissed Una O’Brien for the last time.
Fear of failure made me get on the airplane.
I wanted to get back with Una and stay in Dublin.
Leaving Ireland was an act of cowardice.

 

snippet….

Some things I know about pregnancy:
Our neighbor carried a baby full-term and lost her.
I sat in the Mission Valley Planned Parenthood while my ex-girlfriend had an abortion.
Hanging a horseshoe upside down can result in an unplanned pregnancy.
The double red line of the First Response Pregnancy kit is not good.
My friend has a birth control museum in her bedroom.
Putting your penis inside a girl’s vagina can result in pregnancy, but isn’t enough to lose one’s virginity.

The latch catches behind me as I slip out the front door. Down leaf-strewn avenues and streets and past iron railings shaped like fleur-de-lis, on up the Milltown Road, past Glenmalure Park with its empty terraces and corrugated-tin roofs. The glossy sward slopes upwards in the top left corner and bright white lines mark the pitch for the upcoming match with crosstown rivals, Bohemians. Green-and-white striped flags whip in the breeze and rusted turnstiles stand unused in the mid-day sun.

I cross the street at Alexandra College for boarded and well-bred Young Ladies, and continue down by the river and trail a willow stick in the murky water. At the Dodder Bridge, Una leans over the parapet dropping leaves into the water. For a while in the shade, her slender white fingers release the dried sycamore leaves to float off towards the distant point where the Dodder disappears underground for a mile only to reappear afterwards in the gushing white water past the old gunnery.

She turns her slim shoulders and the smiling face in front of me makes my heart bump about like the sycamore leaves in the water.

“I was just watching the leaves float off to Tír ná N’Óg,” she says.

Why the leaves would go to the legendary Irish land of the young where the brave young Oisín fell to earth and turned into an ancient man with atrophied bones and few breaths left in his lungs, is a mystery to me. But many things about Una mystify me. The reason she’d finally kissed me, why we’ve gone from silent friends to boyfriend and girlfriend—all a shrouded conundrum.

We fall in step and begin walking along the narrow tar path by the water. Mallard and teal ducks swim upstream against the strong current, their plumage sparkling, quick flashes of color catching sunlight as they pass.

meetings, schmeetings….

tuesday’s child goes to meetings, here, there and everywhere. now they’ve moved the Southern Review offices to the LSU Press building it’s not so easy getting over there from the english department building. at least the old offices were adjacent and walkable. it would be a fine walk actually, through the fraternity houses, along by the multiplicity of churches, past the sorority caves, and the lod cook hotel. but time, time, there’s not enough time to spend on such perambulations.

the thesis meetings went without too many bruises being doled out, and i’m pretty clear on what needs doing between now and the thesis defense on april 11th. in between the meetings, my fiction workshop where my students were trying to figure out what exactly the things they carried is, i was able to have signed and submit all my paperwork to the graduate school. one could almost say things are moving along at a brisk pace here. what will happen when may and graduation arrive and the house is boxed up and shipped to carpinteria? everything converges.

and next week is AWP in washington d.c. it’ll be cold as buggery there and with so many off-site readings and whatnot going on i’ll most likely freeze to death in transit to some drinking establishment. i’m not sure what to expect from the conference, not having gone before, but the stories, the stories, send a shiver of trepidation down my knobby spine. the trick will be to keep my head above water, breathe, make slow, easy strokes, and not panic! i’m taking almost a full extra day on the end of the conference to see some historic, or histrionic landmarks.

but now the work on the second round of draft revisions begins in earnest. i wonder where i put that wheeled backpack thing? the damn pages weigh a ton, and with two sets of edits, and four sets of notes, i’ve a need to be organized and circumspect at once. maybe tomorrow or friday i’ll get back to some more of the memories i’ve been writing down…

the secret garden…

birdseye fish fingers, creamed potatoes, heinz beans, and maybe, just maybe, a slice of buttered toast. all washed down with hot tea, a blessing on you for taking care of your children, missus. knock once for yes, twice for no. a low card table with a green felt inlay, deck of dog-eared cards, the suits faded and fingered to nothingness.

there was a house up the lane from where we lived, three-story, with a sprawling back garden that seemed to go on forever. it could have been the garden of eden, or gethsemane, but it was the garden of criminal intent for our fourteen year-old minds. the garden was the portal to the broken down house, its three floors of decayed carpet and abandoned bits and pieces. the owner, we presumed, was dead, and had been an importer of goods from china. one of the upstairs rooms contained boxes of playing cards, diaries, picture frames, fountain pens, and other bric-a-brac. it was the sort of stuff sold at a stall in the dandelion market, but not of sufficient quality for a shop proper.

every now and then we’d slip in the broken back door and make our way upstairs in the dusty light from the glass over the front door. whenever the house creaked, its geriatric boards settling into place, we jumped and ran for the corners, listening for footsteps. i was a terrible coward back then and afraid of my own shadow, so to be in that house at all was a daring move. the contents of the house never found their way into my pockets, afraid as i was of my mother finding something and questioning its origins.

the trees in the wild back garden we climbed all the time, scaling the knotty limbs, pulling ourselves upward toward the sun, to where we could spy on the houses to either side of the abandoned one. beneath the trees was an open area of long grass, the green of which was lighter than that of the leaves of the trees. summer sunshine poured through the branches, through the lattice-work of leaves, like a giant tap spilling bright water onto the ground. i lay on the carpet of grass and watched the spangled sunlight through my fingers. have you ever noticed the click of teeth on teeth when kissed unexpectedly, or when you kiss not knowing what you’re doing?

my eyes closed and the sun turned the insides of my lids bright orange, my favorite color. from someplace my eyelids went to black and a tongue pushed past my lips, porcelain chinking, the shock of warm flesh in my mouth, the sprouting of doubt in my mind. my eyes remained closed, in a dream state, surrendering. was it a dream, or was it happening to me? uncertain, i leaned upwards, a fitful lapse in an afternoon nap on a summer’s day in my fourteenth year.

this past summer i saw again that house and garden and marveled at how small they’d grown in the meantime. in the prism of time everything looked so much more vast, so filled with wonder and excitement and uncertainty. now the house is lived-in, the garden manicured, the wall rebuilt where we used sneak through the broken blocks. the thorny bushes and dense undergrowth are gone, and the memory of who kissed me in a dream is broken and splintered on the floor.

home thoughts from abroad…

meles vulgaris, the badger, a brutal fellow with a skull thick as a plate glass window. he’s a striped beauty, nocturnal, elusive. when I was thirteen my obsession was for wildlife, foxes, badgers, stoats, creatures of the woodland, a place inaccessible to me for most of the time. i brought home book after book on wildlife, the spoor of creatures, their mating habits, how to identify birds in flight or at rest. truthfully, i knew nothing of this world, for we had moved from the country heart of ireland to dublin when I was four. we had no pets when the move took place, or at least i recall none that made the journey. this, despite my family’s long history of owning animals. my mother’s father had a kerry blue dog named patches, or was it rags? this i know from a picture my mother showed me once.

in my mother’s house there are drawers and closets filled with plastic bags of photographs, old negatives, yellowed prints of nameless people and places. several times i’ve tried to persuade her to collate and archive these photographs so that when she is gone there’s some sense of the history of our family through these records. she’s not much interested in this task it appears, for perhaps reasons i cannot get purchase on.

there’s a marvelous photograph of my father on a large, white bay horse, arrayed for the hunt. it must have been taken in the thirties, before the war. strange to see him in such a pose, himself sitting tall in the saddle. to the manor born. we must have had dogs, cats too in order to keep the vermin down in the yard of the family business. bantam cocks and hens pecked about in the yard. a memory of running from a charging bantam niggles at me sometimes.

when we lived in the country i think we were reasonably well-to-do, for a period. at some point the well ran dry and the floorboards gave way to gaping holes in ceilings and rotting walls, and on a clear day in 1967 we drove out from the rural core to the east coast and dublin city.

i’ve got all the stories told by my parents and relations stored someplace, but to access them proves beyond my reach on most occasions. The filing cabinet of my memory is a cluttered mess, not unlike the bags and bags of prints and negatives in my mother’s house. the disordered amalgamation of family history fades by the year in my mother’s house, and the stories of my ancestors’ lives similarly pass into nothingness with each passing year.

even the photographic history of my own life has vast gaps in its fabric. a hard drive crash led to the loss of ten years of memories—photographs, writing, files, gone. the failed drive sits in an office drawer now, my forlorn hope is that one day soon the material can be revitalized by the witchdoctor of the genius bar. if not possible i may have to rearrange the messy filing cabinet of my memories.