Sunday, September 21, 2008

Patrick Kavanagh

Nope. I didn't date him either.

I’m still sick of dating. Let’s try obscure literary references for 100 please. Then, we’ll tie it in with my family’s criminal past. It’ll be fun. Join me, won’t you?

Patrick Kavanagh was a poor poet born in Inniskeen, Ireland. My uncle, the same one responsible for the Satie book, gave me a book of his poetry when I was in college. He was trying to help me understand who I am. I’m Irish, but American. I thought the poetry was puerile. But what did I know?

In the book I found the first poem, Prelude, I ever liked before discovering the Sonnets. I’ve concluded that I only like poems that I feel are basically about me. I memorized the poem. I was trying to impress my Uncle at some point. But how do you impress my Uncle? He’s a brilliant intellectual and classical musician. I’d be lucky to get a word in edgewise. He’s as hilarious as he is hilarious looking. Picture Einstein without the mustache. He’s a psychiatrist on the side. I worked with him one summer. I had my own floor of crazy people. That summer is it’s own blog.

Patrick Kavanagh quit school when he was 13. He was the son of a cobbler. After being diagnosed and recovering from a near fatal disease he began to write in his 20’s. He published a slightly famous poem called, “The Great Hunger” The man was basically illiterate, self-taught, yet he touched people.

My Uncle tells tales of meeting Patrick in pubs in Dublin and Dundalk. University students loved Patrick and flocked to him to talk and drink Guinness, which is good for you by the way. My Uncle was in medical school and like the other students, adored the slightly drunken, outrageous, blasphemous utterances of this simple, yet profoundly self-made Irish peasant.

Being Irish is complicated. Especially when your grandfather was second in command of the IRA. (I tell my friends that criminal behavior skips a generation) My grandfather was sentenced to death, shot and imprisoned more then once. In fact, that is how he met my grandmother. She was a nurse. He was in a hospital room after he was shot. Guards were guarding the door. The intent was to get him well enough to execute him. She distracted the guards by inviting them to tea in the hospital cafeteria. When they returned, my grandfather was gone.

She was arrested and imprisoned for helping him. They marched her down the center of the road, made her walk to the jail through the streets to secure her humiliation. (When you’re related to quasi-criminals, it’s okay to romanticize their suffering.)

In prison, she was in good company with several intellectual female writers and such. They were an enterprising bunch. One day they dug down through the mealy dirt of the prison floor until water rushed in. The jail was closed and they were moved to better accommodations. My grandmother was educated woman in a time when women were not educated. She was released after a few months, no charges. But she had been humiliated and emotionally hurt. She never let it show. Throughout her life she struggled with depression and acted a bit crazy according to my Uncles but not according to my Mother. Had the war not broken out, she would have completed her music scholarship in Germany. She would have been a pianist. Maybe that is why she was so sad.

Later a plot within the IRA was hatched to get my Grandfather out of the country. He was sent to the shipyards. These shipyard folks would select men to work on ships heading for America. It was pre arranged that my grandfather would be selected despite the fact that he had no skills for such work. He escaped to New York. My grandmother joined him soon after.

Later my grandfather was granted amnesty by the Irish government. They returned to Ireland for good.

I spent summers on Castle Road in the bleary overcast rain. Everything was gray yet cozy with fireplaces in every room. Porridge every morning for breakfast, brown soft-boiled eggs and the most delicious blackberry jam. I would stare out the third floor window, watching people stroll beneath umbrellas on the wet streets below. People with greyhound dogs on leashes headed to the races. Children dressed in gray playing in the streets. I gazed down at them through panes of glass dappled with raindrops. When it wasn’t gray, it was marvelously green.

My Grandfather took us to the sea where there were cliffs and miles of rocks. There was a murky smell, I learned to adore it. He wore a three-piece suit every day of his life, even at the beach. He bought a restored “Gypsy Caravan” in which we played. We picked blackberries on the side of the road.

Ireland was magical. I was fond of walking to the neighbor’s houses, which were conjoined, one by one. This is something I did as a child. I walked to other peoples houses, alone, and just knocked on the door. I must have seemed an American oddity, dressed in bright colors, very spiffy in my short dresses from I. Magnin. The neighbors, well, each one had a special treat. The Gormlys, had my favorite. It was the Fairy game. I would stand in the corner and close my eyes. When I opened them I would check my pockets. Every time a “Fairy” managed to place a small sweet, button or toy in my pocket.

When my father came to visit (he was working in the states) we would go for drives in the country with my Mother and sisters. My father always pointed out the Leprechauns. “Look Charmaine, there’s one right over there! Oh, you missed it.” I never saw one because, as you know, they run very fast despite having extraordinarily short legs. They have to hide from people so that folks don’t discover their pots of gold, which, apparently they take everywhere. I grew to hate the little bastards for only showing themselves to my father.

If you get the chance, go to Ireland. Make a point to mingle with the locals. Like I did as a child, just walk up to a door…and knock.


JIMSIGHT said...

I thought I was going crazy there for a moment...glad you found it...

SF said...

thank goodness you found it. Glad to know i am not the only one with a colorful family....I have some handy cousins in Sicily if you need some work done on your strangely magnetic porch....

Briana said...

Apparently my experience in Ireland is quite different than yours. Of course, I was only 2. I can remember standing under one of the bridge shaped rocks during a rainstorm. Picking a grab bag. And walking down to the Gormley's in a botched attempt to run away from what I knew, even then, to be a dysfunctional family. They sent me back, damn it!

Briana said...

Oh yeah, as they say in Guantanamo, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Our grandfather's participation in what is commonly referred to as a terrorist organization is an example. Also, it was my understanding that our grandmother and her group of criminals achieved the notorious distinction of being in every women's jail in Ireland (since they always dug down to the water). How cool is that!

P.O.M. said...

Ok, I'm kinda worried.
Haven't heard from you and I know the creepy, lurky Surfer, cheap bastard has been around. Are you alive?

Charmaine said...

The fact that you (p.o.m. and my sis) think that evil surfer dude is going to kill me is scaring me.

I just watched one of my favorite films, Dolores Claiborn, and saw evil surfer dude, personified.

Briana, the Gormleys sent me back too. I was older and allowed greater reign. I loved being in that house on Castle Road. I experienced it as the first normal thing that ever happened to us/me.

Grandma was kind to me the firest night. She sat by the side of my bed until I fell asleep. She brought me tea. It is my first act of kindness I recall.

After Dad died, I did the same for you and Erin. It was the only thing I knew to do. Bring you tea to your bedroom. Did I do that, or am I quite mad?

But I was not your mother or your grandmother. I had less influence, I just didn't know it at the time. said...

After reading this, I now know why you were named Charmaine. Eloquently written.