Every Man An Immigrant

Back home on Long Island my father’s family of origin knew within an Irish radius of 20 miles where his family had come from. A one-room straw and mud house tipping it’s roof hat to passersbys, half in the main road, halfway uphill, halfway to Roscrea, County Tipperary, halfway to the coast. Somehow it didn’t add up.

“See,” Dad would say years later sitting in our suburban living room, he at his old oak roll top desk, the eight of us born already, Dad looking from the curling black and white picture of his mother’s family’s house in his hand back to me, “Roscrea, means ‘earthen wood,’ something that lasts forever, like family, God and St. Cronan’s, the local church back in Roscrea.”

Years later, as an adult, I stood rain soaked on a still frosted July day in Roscrea, my husband, our five-year-old son, and my Mom with us, with me, scratching my head at our finding not one but two St. Cronan’s Churches and two St. Cronan’s cemeteries. One, Catholic, the second, Anglican — not 200 yards from each other. Miles of cemetery markers between them, stone walls all around, a brick castle moat wrapping a medieval town
nearby. Without speaking I knew from which side of the aisle my family harkened from.

“Well, if that’s not Irish irony for you,” I said standing next to the Catholic St. Cronan’s. “With all the saints from eternity forward to choose from they pick the same one for both churches. Like how we supposed to pay our respects? Don’t call me the shadow voice of Celtic doom but looking for one’s ancestors between two wet meadows of death in the frigid waning light — not my idea of a vacation. I’m going to the car. Anyone coming?”

Mom already there, running the car for the heat, my husband hanging back, a black crayon and paper in his hand bending, rubbing a little Irish from a headstone.

Mom had zero interest in the town, her cousin had determined her father’s side of the family tree came from Dublin, her mother’s side, from Cork, occupations? Seafarers, with her, the sea beat all.

Back at our bed and breakfast that night, looking for a clue to our unsubstantiated blue blood, I queried our proprietress about our family names.

“Yes,” Mrs. O’Neill, said drawing close to me, “The Sullivan’s, surly bunch they, the name mean one-eyed-red-haired-cyclops. Mean one, that.”

“Which county do you think they came from?”

Her arms folding across her bosom, she looked at me across the top of her wire rimmed glasses, a round linen cloth covering the table, basket of brown bread between us, she said, “That’d be a wee bit like finding the first Rodriquez in Los Angeles.”

All I needed to know, I put my map away, pulling the bread to me, slathering it with Devonshire and jam I took a bite.

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Bread

I watch a quartered slice of white bread drop to the aluminum bowl sitting on the white counter tile in my uncle’s Oahu kitchen, the bowl containing two cups of gunpowder, a cup and a half of milk, two eggs lightly forked. The pieces sponging up runny liquid, then sliding to a deep fat fryer, a wok of boiling oil on the brown-black stove top.  Our featured product floating, frothing, fringing, flipping, browning draining on a wad of white paper towels, going to a shaking brown lunch bag, commingling with the enemy of the world – more, same, white, sugar. This, how you make Hawaiian Malasadas. The cost, the net worth of a girl, a lifetime of earnings for two weeks of out loud dreaming, laughing at my fun cousins’ house, penny traded for a fortune of forever. This, a hundred years ago when I was fourteen, when I helped cook what was already cooked, stood watching puffing squares forming a string of puffs, one after another popping into our slick drooling red wide open white ‘O’s.’ Get yer red hots here! This, the morning my cousin invents churros, a Dunkin Donuts shop opening on her father’s open plan options-added bachelor home for wayward teens, my cousins. Their second story main level living area with ‘70s pass-thru window, dark den paneling, low orange crushed velvet sofa sectionals, beige wall-to-wall sculpted carpeting, walls of pictures, mountains and ocean behind glass, a tower lanai lookout with rattan hanging basket chairs, papusan loungers, nesting tables, and, views of a rock. A rock we wait on hand and foot, sending sweet nothings, watching to see if what happened 150,000 years ago will happen again. This, when we are not watching malasadas.

No action until rock says so, no action until beach says so, no action until jungle city says so, sky says, Open sesame, setting daylight, sky’s sarong dropping to the horizon floor, her nails lacquer red, her shawl shrouding the world in black, this, while an ancient unseen native — trying his fireman best — tries throwing scant blue onto an inferno that just won’t quit. Pacific, not enough to douse the plunder of over our heads.  The east, gone, here and now, going, going, all of Asia, pfsst, next up, kindling. Day, in the pocket of Night, a she-wolf thief climbing from her cave, claiming things known — color, light, time — her seep and dredge dear – a yowl within, she sups upon her own. What I have feared my whole life now in her fist. I tell myself things to staunch the bleed, crooning about her perfection, praying light will find a way, make hurried fixes on what’s been tossed, a lace cup, of what cannot be held, try to drink in smaller sips, apologizing as diamonds fall to the head of a rock, tell my girl, all will be okay, light will find a way through holes, light will find a way.

Night scoffs at me, You are nothing girl.  Her coma pours over my nothingness. Her gum wrappers laying over the dark water, as heaven falls upon her sword, fade to black.

My girl tries to stand up to Night, says, This, no way to console a Day robbed of light, this no way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, no way to hold a baby, sow a field, right a wrong, this, no way to map forever. Not in the dark, anyway, in the dark one needs light to make repairs. Night says, Obey girl, come morning, you too will ask to be robbed again, ask to unlearn the old songs, unlearn names you call things, unlearn your pantomimes so you may begin to live, love as loving breathes it’s own stank, leaving your body juiced, sluiced, loosened, lucid, leaving her mark, through night today will have made sense. Girl says no, stupid things like, I should have known this, I should have known that, this must be why bad things happen. Night pays her no mind, drumming handiwork charming tomorrow’s sleepwalkers, shredding her cuff on the moon and stars, her ripping boomerang tricking us to madness — tuberose, jasmine, frangipani, orchids twixt on twine, a lifetime of nooses around our mortal necks. Give me proof, says girl, poof, and years of Night. Finally girl says, I quit to Night and star lines unreel paths, girl strolling back to her soul.

It all comes down this earthworm girl, says Night, enter the dark or it’s just skipping stones. Girl says, yes this, yes that, yes oh wise Night. All for a heaping teaspoon of light, for the memory of you, agreeing she will befriend the dark.

Say yes, says Night in a test, say yes to emptying your best and only cup, to giving your cup away, then you will see light, then learn how to walk on water, backwards, on your hands, learn how to sing hallelujahs in the dark. Practice, girl, Night says, practice, practice, all is practice. And, because it is Night all the time girl says yes to Night, yessing Night day and night, calling the unschooled, unrelenting, Night a merciless whore, going about her days scraping her silver bowl for alms, licking her fingers for oil and granulated sweetness, bowing day and night. Yes, she says in the end, yes, I will give my best and only cup away, yes, I will learn how to walk on water, backwards, on my hands, in the dark but for one thing, girl says to Night. Anything, girl. Girl says, You first.

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