Easter 2018

photo credit Caroline Traugott

I guess from now on, I’ll always associate spring with death, Mother’s Day especially, the day my sons’ mother passed, a word I don’t use in this context. It’s probably such a popular euphemism because it suggests travelling, passing through death’s dark door into another realm, the undiscovered country, Hamlet calls it.

Although I don’t believe in an afterlife, I’m not arrogant enough to think I could not be wrong about my disbelief. Once again, Hamlet, to his pal Horatio, after having conversed with the spirit of his father:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.[1]

As it turns out, my younger son Ned has recently conversed with his mother Judy, though in a dream. Aglow, Ned said, with golden light, she told him she was fine, and that things were more important where she was now, that she was busy.

At any rate, any rational person perceives the ubiquity of death — the fallen leaf, roadkill in the medium, swatted mosquito, ill-tended orchid — with a measure of dispassion.  The not-so-sad fact is the last thing that dying or grieving makes you is special.

Of course, we’re all destined to die – the blight that man was born for, Hopkins calls it in “Spring and Fall.”

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

On the other hand, more importantly, we’re born to live, and spring, of course, is all about resurrection. Look at Good Friday’s full moon at the top of this page, perched in a tree above the Pour House porch. How beautiful!

Now it’s waning, melting away, obliterating fewer stars as it progressively disappears, and, of course, our favorite star continues to do its thing.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”

Yesterday, Caroline and I picked up two six-day-old peeps as an Easter present for her daughter. Downstairs in Ned’s vacated room, growing seemingly in time-lapse fashion before our very eyes, downy little dinosaurs pecking away, stretching their tiny embryonic-looking wings, lucky to be alive.

To me, this seems enough: to be able to breathe, to taste, to fall in love again, to read Hopkins out loud backed by wind chimes as the melting moon makes her way towards the horizon to be reborn.

Happy Easter.


[1] Philosophy here could entail science.

A Paean To Ireland, Sort Of

View from A Rented Cottage in County Clare, photograph by Wesley Moore III

Although I’m certain I have a drop or two of Irish blood, I’m not of the Catholic immigrant variety with distant cousins in Kerry or Donegal. Nevertheless, ever since I saw at the age of seven Darby O’Gill and the Little People, I have loved that “little green place” and its soulful inhabitants, its poetry, music, fairies and leprechauns, its abundance of foxgloves, and those mountains in the distance so vaporous it looks as if you could puncture them with your forefinger.

And, oh my god, that rainbow I encountered in 1978 outside of Limerick!

Judy Birdsong Preparing Supper in County Cork, photograph by Wesley Moore

Ireland was the first place I went abroad at twenty-five, and I have been twice again since. In the previous century, Judy, our boys, and I rented cottages, burned peat, shopped at the butchers, drank and listened to music in the pubs, climbed Ben Bulben’s back, and crawled our way up Croagh Patrick.

Ned Moore descending Croagh Patrick, photograph by Judy Birdsong

We got to know our neighbors, so hospitable. Here below are the boys helping John Joe O’Shea shear a sheep near Bantry Bay on the Berea Peninsula in County Cork.

Ned and Harrison Moore and John Joe O’Shea shearing sheep

What truly astounds me about Ireland, though, is how an island the size of South Carolina could produce so many literary masters– Swift, Goldsmith, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, and Heaney, to name the ones who come immediately to mind.

Despite his kooky mysticism and rightist politics, Yeats is my hero, and despite his arrogance and sometime meanness, Joyce is my hero.

Joyce, of course, had his issues with his native land. For example, Dubliners isn’t exactly what you would call a flattering portrait of that city. I’m currently on Disc 30 of the Donal Donnnelly/Miriam Healy-Louie recording of Ulysses, “Episode 16,” the so-called Eumaeus episode when Bloom and Stephen seek refuge in a cabman’s shelter after Stephen has been punched out by an English soldier.

An old tar, DB Murphy comes into the shelter and asks Stephen if he knows Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s father, and Stephen says, “I’ve heard of him.” The seaman answers, “He’s Irish [. . .] All Irish.” Stephen “rejoins” (to use Joyce’s dialogue prompt) “All too Irish.” As a Southerner, I can certainly identify with Stephen’s love/hate relationship with his native land.

Anyway, listening to Donnelly read Joyce’s rich broth of Anglo-Saxon and French-derived words, I have gotten the cadences stuck in my head, and to purge them, I’ve composed this negative ditty, trying to stick with only Anglo-Saxon, through which I mean not to stereotype my Irish brethren but merely to make music out of misery.

 

Manic Irish Reeling

Slop flung from a window above

Splatters on stone in globby plops.

 

Curses, fists, flung and shook,

Shuffling brogans, baleful looks.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

After toil a stop at the pub,

Reeking redbearded guzzling swabs

Fritter away their coppery coins

Picking scabs by swapping tales.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

Baggy-eyed mothers fret

Greedy sucklings at their breasts,

Keening toddlers at their feet,

Their stillborns gone, but not forgotten,

Their overripe love on the road to rotten.

 

With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

Out in the street across the way

Waifs and strays banding about.

Rail thin curs and scrawny cats.

Yelping and mewling till the sun comes up.

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro –

 

Hit it!

 

“With a high ro and a randy ro and my galloping tearing tandy O!”

 

Thomas Hardy on Zoloft

 

 

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing

Alive enough to have the strength to die.

 

Windows, willows, gray clouds, a lake,

A landscape sketched by Thomas Hardy,

Heartache’s bald-headed ambassador,

Who wondered what life’s fuss was for.

 

Yet why so glum? The willows wave,

As if to welcome the scudding clouds.

This vacay cottage sports a tin roof.

Pounding percussion is in store.

 

Pull down the shades, shut down Pandora.

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain,

Telling you just what a fool you’ve been

Groaning and bemoaning tick tocks away . . .

Goodbye for Good

On the train you get smaller, as you get farther away.
The roar covers everything you wanted to say.
Was that a raindrop or a tear in the corner of your eye?
Were you drying your nails or waving goodbye?

 Tom Waits, “2:19”


In “Madame George,” the second song of Side Two of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, I love it when Madame George says to the narrator, “Hey love, you forgot your gloves.”

And then the narrator, (rather than Madame George, I think) says

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

To say goodbye to Madame George

Dry your eye for Madame George

Wonder why for Madame George.”

 

 

Wonder why about what?

In the last stanza, it’s as if the narrator has to self-hypnotize himself leave, as if he has to verbally will his very locomotion:

Get on the train
Get on the train, the train, the train
This is the train, this is the train
Whoa, say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Get on the train, get on the train.

 

Glove equals love, liltingly. Gloves sometimes wave goodbye.

Goodbye for good?

I don’t pretend to know what’s happening here, but it’s something very, very sad; we’re in a world of woe, outré, impressionistic, hypnotic.

You can feel the inarticulate hurt, and it’s bad to feel so good to know you’re not the only one hurting.

We’ve all felt this. This is the train. Get on the train. Dry your eyes. This is the bed. Get out of the bed. Put Visine in your eyes.

Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes.

Dreadful, Selfish Misdemeanors

 

Where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free

Johnny Cash, “Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie”

 

Lots of cheating going on in country songs,

Lots of sinning,

 

Drinking — worse than drinking — honky-tonking.

Wrack, domestic rubble, crying babies, hysteria.

 

Lots of people breaking Jesus promises

In “them” songs — adultery galore, lonely rooms,

 

Like the one I’m sitting in now,

My own little lone prairie,

 

After cheating on the Times crossword puzzle

And laying hoodoo curses on a president.