Thursday, August 20, 1998

Omagh Bombing (prose) part 1

Omagh Bombing

20 August, my grandmother's birthday.

As if a traitor to my race, I drink scotch whisky, the half-life of the Troubles, when the Plantation, and Ulster's shame, grew restive, and the bones sewn in that rough field, sprouted another generation of hatred.

As we read about Omagh and how the bombs dissected the limits of innocent children into Daliesque clocks dripping from hedgerows and curbs. The Afghans have a saying: I have never known so much sorrow. Now it is a field I have inherited, and I till it.

Meanwhile the bodies of the dead in Africa settled home into the earth's bosom. We retaliate. I learn from the news the meaning of pre-emptive strike. Are we at war again?

 And Omagh. Neil frets. His cousins surely know some of the dead. I went to buy film at that shopping center, one survivor said. This O'Neill who shares my food, I told him tonight that I love him and already he is making plans of escape, as if love were a grenade, ready to rearrange the heart.

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She, who kept alive the fire in me, kindled like the holy flame of Rome within me so that I would bear witness.

The grand design continues to work through me, and at random, I grab a book from the shelf, John Montegue's Rough Field, because I liked the title and it reminded me of Seamus Heaney's The Field. A good Irish read, I thought, except Omagh crept in from the pages anew after 30 years, recycling the violence that is Ulster.

She, who kept the flame alive within me, a decade gone, Tír na nÓg, or to Hy Breasil, or whatever the place where the dead congregate.

The amber coating of uisce beatha and the whispering secrets of extinguish peat fires. Neil is fresh back from the Highlands, but he bade me promise that if he died soon, to carry his ashes to Iona, Colum Cille's Isle.

Neil's middle name is Columba, but no doves rested on his breast, Neil's namesake. A name that spans the father's and the clan's name. Neil's name repeats itself, a starter in history, a chieftain son, born in Scotland because St. Columba turned his back on Ireland.

Neil's father worked the land of his ancestors, Tír Eoghan, Tyrone, Omagh and Strabawn. Where does one poem get begin and another in? Neil chastises me for not writing. This past year have I been in purgatory for loving an O'Neill? But as Montague says, one must begin at home.

Violence blossoms in Africa, and Ireland, and now the Sudan and Afghanistan. What fields have we inherited beneath this vast sky? The worst bombing in 30 years. Kate Perry email us a chain letter condemning the violence.

A friend once misheard the word violence and thought of violins playing. I saw gangsters toting violin cases.

The Rough Field, an garbh achaidh. Should I be drinking Bushmills? A Protestant whiskey? Hugh O'Neill sleep sound in his bed.

Lamb dearg abu, the knife slipped and my left hand, red with the blood. The Red Hand of Ulster? I crossed myself, out of habit and think of the poetry plumping in the garden end Tyge buried in John's name. The Catholic slur. I learned well at my grandmother's knee. She gave me the Cailleach's skeleton one Halloween, Samhain and burned the candles.

My grandmother dabbing uisce beatha behind her ears like a rare Arabian perfume.

Will you dance with O'Neil
in an Irish battlefield?

But we chose the vast plains of the grafted tongue, and the only real famine in our lives is the lack of love. Did I have the music? Was it within me? It was attached to the words of an alien tongue nesting in my mouth. Wild Gaelic vowels, unbidden like feral cats beneath the sodium lamp, that darker permanence of ancient stones formed in the mouth.

As a child, I dressed my fingers and foxgloves, fairy bells, my grandmother said. Digitalis, pointing to her heart. Mo chroidhe, she said. I cannot separate the heart from the small trumpets that dressed my fingers in the medicine of the heart.

And thus, I learned about poison and trespassing, as if happiness was meant solely for others. I learned how to say the words for love, heart, and blood in several languages.

As if to draw on the fire. Who do I celebrate? My grandmother who suffered the tongues of Americans—WASPs stinging her with words as she boarded the cable car in her third trimester. My mother stirring crazily in the womb.

Mount Tamalpais rises up, a sleeping maiden against a flawless August sky. How many can claim such a place as their beginning? For, I began there, was it beneath an oak tree growing out of the dolmen at sunset, or was it in the backseat of an old Chevy or Ford? No matter, I exist. Anyway. The twin deaths of my parents, long-divorced, a cosmic joke.

The pain gathering in my mother's nervous hands fed her, until her breasts glowed. Light leaking into the cellular darkness. The idea populates my mind, the generational pool towards a further light, the identity we run from, or try to deny it like St. Paul.

The odor of my grandmother's white hair nested on Neil's head. And I caress the confusion of his hair that is also my grandmother's hair, I have no desire to delineate the vagaries of the heart.

Is it so hard to look into the eyes of the living? My mother's eyes, long dead before the final curtain. The pale, exquisite beauty, as she stood in the floodlights. Limelight, once the brightest of lights, beckoned, and the wild applause. Later, she couldn't distinguish between the audience of the stage and the audience of the streets. Ministering angel of the marginalized, no angels came to her rescue in the end.

Lately the earth's been trembling through no fault of her own. And the rational ones begin to discuss earthquakes, weather, and the Richter Scale. The house moans in your absence, as if keening for you, as you deliberate between the land of your birth, and the land of your life, the family closing in.

What if what you desire is also what you abhor? A hollow note from the next offering, that was your youth, you confess your frozen heart is irrepairablly damaged. You ask me not to get attached to outcomes, or have expectations, s if you owned the patent on loneliness, that blind animal rising from the abbeys of shunted desire and pain, towards nothingness.

The siren replaces the banshee's wail in this swollen city of crack and the timetable of the net high metered out. The landlord says you can time the arrival of the welfare checks by the speed of the dealers driving on the shoulders of the freeway. The iceplant, punished for the burning flame in the veins of those who've assembled at the altar of misconceptions.

I remember the nuns telling us not to chew the wafer, to let it melt on our tongues, but they also told us the rain was God's tears. I knew I wasn't that bad though my mother caught me scolding myself as a child, saying: Bad girl! Bad girl! A mantra to carry me forth. It was then that I knew God was peeing on us. Clear, and simple. We were shyte.

And the old women, dressed in mourning black, believed, believed, like my aunt who pleaded with me to believe so that I would be saved when the time came, for the Man Upstairs.

The Bread God obviously never stood in the bread lines of Russia, as I did, in the bitter cold of winter, in Leningrad, only to arrive empty-handed. Body of Christ.

And my Soviet boyfriend, a fanatic believing every word to be true. Darwin is dead. My cousin teaches a dead language to the young who have no fear of dying.

Bog Latin commemorates the hedge schools where we cobbled together bits of history that will scar us into the next generation.

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