Tag Archives: Ireland

Becoming American

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Today, for the first time, I celebrated Independence Day as an American citizen. A week ago, I stood in a large reception room along with a hundred and seventy-two others and our families, representing forty-seven nations, and we took an oath of allegiance to this country.

For me, it had been a long time coming. Twenty-seven years to be exact. The majority of us come looking for a better quality of life than we could have expected if we’d stayed in our country of birth. Some cannot wait to shed the shackles of an oppressive government, or a miserable life of poverty and violence. I was one of the lucky ones. Leaving Dublin in the late 1980’s, I became part of the brain-drain—college graduates looking for challenging job opportunities that were not available in a depressed economy. The path across the Atlantic was a well-worn one.

But unlike many immigrants, my family had no desire to follow me. Instead, I make the pilgrimage home a couple of times a year. And part of me remains firmly rooted in Ireland.

It’s always irked me that although I’ve long been active in my community, and paid taxes for decades, I could not vote, not even on local issues. The importance of this privilege was brought home to me when my oldest children turned eighteen and took on the lifelong responsibility. With all the international political turbulence, the tenets of a democracy are all the more important to uphold. I needed to show my children that I respect their country of birth and embrace the extraordinary document on which it was founded.

As a family we’ve never been big on fireworks and barbecues. So I found myself pondering how I should celebrate this day, and what being an American really means to me. The USCIS calls the process of becoming a citizen a naturalization process. Adapting to a way of life, and adopting a country’s social mores takes time. But becoming enmeshed in a landscape, taking ownership of a space and calling it home is a more subtle and binding tie.

This morning, finding the patch of sunlight waiting for me on the bench at the top of the garden, I understood that I have found my natural place in this landscape. Season by season, I’ve raised my family, made friends, planted a garden, put down roots. I belong. And what better way to celebrate than to sit there and enjoy the bounty of this amazing country.
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DAY’S END

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Sudden rush of feathers
draughting the air above me
small flocks of careening birds
fly low over the meadow
chased by strong tail winds
a dozen at a time joining
the twisting, turning mass
flowing across the evening sky
out over the lake, back over the trees
a pulsing organism, feinting left and right
like black drops of ink swirled in water
and then, on signal, they descend
in chattering swarms into the reed beds
their shrill conversations fill the air—
a murmuration of starlings at day’s end.

Croagh Patrick

DSCF8535After four days of gales and pelting rain in the west of Ireland, the sun decided to show itself a few moments before sunset. The mountain in the distance is Croagh Patrick, or the Reek as it’s known locally. It’s been a place of pilgrimage from long before the followers of St. Patrick started trekking up its scree slopes in bare feet. Over the years I’ve taken many photos of it from all angles. Here are a few.
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PALACE OF THE BOYNE – Brú na Bóinne

Dawn watchers exhale
steamy breath as lick
of sunlight passes
through a small opening
creeps down
a stone passage on
winter’s equinox bathes
in solstice light
the tomb that echoes
with faith and ritual

Five thousand years
the stones have held
the secrets of unknown
builders to capture
the wild stallion of the sun
unfettered marker of
the season when
to draw forth the plow
when to sow and reap
and how to hope

Homage paid with
stone hammer flint
picking swirling impressions into
rock tributes placed
offerings of bead and bone
in crevices carved
granite basins to hold
charred remains of
those that had the gift to see
the future bring prosperity

To connect living to dead
life to death light to darkness
sacrifice frost on
early morning grass shivering
attendants brown cow bellowing
in acknowledgement of
steam rising off hot blood in
cold winter sun to heat
the earth and draw
the soul of a new year forward.

"Newgrange Eingang Stein" by I, Clemensfranz. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newgrange_Eingang_Stein.jpg#/media/File:Newgrange_Eingang_Stein.jpg

“Newgrange Eingang Stein” by I, Clemensfranz. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newgrange_Eingang_Stein.jpg#/media/File:Newgrange_Eingang_Stein.jpg

 

 

MOVING TOWARD STRANGENESS

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The first time she ate snow
She was forty-nine
Burrs in her heavy dark hair
Dusty as a horse’s hide
But beautiful

She strode out onto the plain
Crushing rock and exoskeletons
Beneath her boots
Her sights set firmly
On the lights in the northern sky

Her wild child curled within her bone cage
—a glowing coal—
Sleeping carelessly
Ready to spring up from the purple cushion
And sway to the beat

She relished the roll
Of whiskey on her tongue
That strut—blowing dust off her pool cue
To the jukebox
Thumbing through a lifetime of songs

When snow blotted out her vision
She ate her way through the blizzard
One faceted flake at a time
Drawing sustenance
For the journey

She picked her way along the seashore
Weighing her pockets with
Salt-encrusted stones
Footprints erased by the galloping tide
She knew the way home

Pressed her fingers to the glass
Feeling the sharpness of cold rain
The wind called at each corner
Of that solitary house
Wearing them smooth

The sweet curve of the bay
Cradled her gaze
Buoying up the storm clouds
And those sunsets to die for
Strut and retreat.

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IMAGINE A TREE

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Multi-chambered
fortress, tree house, throne
toe holder, ship’s mast
staircase to the heavens
galleon of the woods above
tentacle crawling roots below
battle scarred silver hide
xylem and phloem
carrying fingerprints
of centuries, absorbing
earth and air, detritus
one fleeting moment of many
flickering image—
ghost at the back of an eyelid—
the chestnut mare
scratching her rump
against a beech sapling
green with fast flowing growth
on a June evening
in a cloud of golden gnats
and her tail swishing
from side to side
the memory ingrained
in a low-slung limb
a moss saddled horse.

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SUN RAYS

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. . . the little mice began to gather corn and nuts and wheat and straw. They all worked day and night. All—except Frederick.
“Frederick, why don’t you work? They asked.
“I do work,” said Frederick.
“I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.”

—Frederick by Leo Lionni

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