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.

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Dickinson, First Year Medical Student

I wrote this poem after visiting a morgue at the Medical University of South Carolina.  You can read about the visit here.

Emily Dickinson, First Year Medical Student

their nightingales and psalms

 

Far removed from vanity

The old man lies exposed,

His organs sporting flags

Like holes of a golf course.

 

Nose and Ears are hairy;

He used to be a Man

Who ate beets – burped – blinked in the Sun –

It used to be Man.

 

Now disarticulated,

The antithesis of sentimentality,

Resting in pieces

Like left over turkey.

 

Yes, I have become accustomed

To hanging out with the Dead,

Assuming a cool, ironic air,

Pulling intestines like thread,

 

But when I die, I want my Lodging

As plush as plush can be,

For I have learned this lesson

In Gross Anatomy:

 

In spite of all

The noble palaver,

It’s impossible to respect

A desiccated cadaver.

Dog Gone

 

Long gone Saisy (read and hear her elegy here)

When I teach poetry, I get technical, especially with meter, because to me the marriage of sound and sense is what alchemizes verse into poetry.   Over the years, trying to get students to replicate a line of iambic pentameter or anapestic trimeter, I’ve had them bopping bongos, rapping desktops with drumsticks, clapping their hands.

Frankly, rhythm doesn’t come naturally to many — if not the majority; nevertheless, I’ll continue to emphasize meter until the end of my career, which is just around the corner, almost within shouting distance.

With the six-month anniversary of Judy’s death approaching, I have been ever so slowly inventorying and eliminating. Going through some drawers yesterday, I ran across this twenty-year-old poem/parody I wrote as an answer to a student who asked after a session of metric hand clapping, “Is there such a thing as iambic monometer?” Right then and there, I composed an answer on the chalkboard (I believe it was still the age of slate and chalk, but I could be wrong).

That night in my drafty garret at the Isle of Palms, I typed the poem and went on an over-interpreting binge, which was probably bad pedagogy since most students believe that teachers read far too much into poems anyway, but I just couldn’t help myself. I had to justify the reason for anyone ever to write a poem in iambic monometer.

Without further ado, I present it to you here, the annotated version.  Read it and weep.


Yes, Preston Wendell, There Is Such a Thing as Iambic Monometer[1]

The old dog barks backward without getting up.

I can remember when he was a pup.

The fret-[2]

ful Dog

is dead

and gone.[3]


[1] Preston Wendell studied under Wesley Moore in 1996-7. Wendell’s question led to the genesis of the poem. The epigraph is from Frost’s “The Span of Life.” Obviously, the choice of iambic monometer and the resultant abbreviated lines with their clipped cadences offer a visual and auditory parallel to the relative brevity of a dog’s life.

[2] Cf. Macbeth 5.5 “Out, out brief candle/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets (emphasis mine) his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.”

[3] It was been pointed out that the approximate rhyme dog/gone, not only embodies the crux of the poem, but also may be taken as a minced oath bemoaning the transitory nature of life.


Now, let me remove tongue from cheek and put some whiskey there instead.

What My Horoscope Say

original painting by George Quaintance, photoshopped by I-and-I

 

 

Sagittarius, my name’s Wes. Half

Shetland pony, half man, half drunk,

Spunky, funky feetswise, street wise

Not so much. Hobbling on All Day IPA

Crutches, engaged to a duchess, a

Non bullshitter my horoscope say.

 

My horoscope say I promise more

than deliverable, say I so un-

diplo make Donald Trump

shiver with the faux pas machine

I be revving 24/7. A freedom craving

charming ass knave, it say.

 

But I know this cat born on the same day

who be ain’t at all like me, good at math,

half Chinese, don’t waste his time

pumping out faux funk, got good

teeth, non-nomadic, tactful, wrath

less, leave no mess, a Sagittarius?

 

Wonder what his horoscope say.