Thursday, August 20, 1998



Am I a traitor to my race,
I drink Scots whisky.
and contemplate the half-life of The Troubles 
when the Plantation of Ulster's shame grew.

And the bones in that rough field 
sprouted another generation of hatred. 
We read about Omah in the papers
how the bombs dissected limbs of the innocent
and rearranged them into Daliesque clocks 
dripping from hedgerows and curbs. 

The Afghans have a saying:
I have never known sorrow, 
no it is a field I have inherited,
and I till it anew.

Meanwhile the disappeared in Africa 
have settled home into the earth's bosom,
without a trace. No witnesses. Meanwhile,
in the Gulf, we retaliate, I learn from the news,
a new word, preemptive, as in preemptive strike.
Death is death is death. Are we at war again?

And Omagh. Neil frets, his cousins 
will surely know some of the dead. 
I went to buy film at that shopping center, he said. 
This man who shares my food 
broke down and cried. As I held him, 
I told him tonight that I loved him. 
And already he's making plans of escape, 
as if love were a grenade 
waiting to rearrange the heart.

Today is my grandmother's birthday. 
She, who kept alive the fire within me,
Kindled the holy flame within me 
so that I would bear witness. 
The grand design continues to work
through you, she said.

I grab a book from the shelf, 
John Montague's Rough Field 
because I like the title and it reminds me 
of Seamus Heaney's collection, The Field. 
A good Irish read, I thought. That's the ticket.
Except Omagh crept from the pages.
After near nearly 30 years, we are 
recycling the violence that is Ulster.
She who kept the flame alive within me, 
a decade gone, to Tír na nÓg, or Hy Breasil,
or whereever the dead go to congregate. 
Ulster, the amber coating my glass, uisge beatha,
a Kabbalah of whispered secrets & peat fires. 

Neil, fresh back from the Highlands, 
bade me to promise that if he died soon,
to carry his ashes to Iona, Columcille
Columba, no doves rested in his breast.
Neil's namesake. Middle name 
that which spans the fathers, 
and the clan name. 
Neil's name repeats itself, 
a stutter in history, a chieftain's son, 
born in Scotland, because Columba 
turned his back on Ireland. But Neil's father
worked the land of his ancestors, 
with plough and turf shovel in Omah, Tyrone.
Where does one pain begin and another and?
Neil chastises me for not writing this past year. 
How I've been in purgatory for loving an O'Neill?
But as Montague says, one must begin at home.
Violence blossoms in Africa, in Ireland,
and now the Sudan. And then Afghanistan.
What fields have we inherited
beneath this vast bloodless sky?

The worst bombing in 30 years, someone said.
Kate Perry emails us a chain letter from Dublin
condemning the violence. What can we do,
so far from home. The garden of mankind.

A friend once misheard the word violence
and thought of violins playing.
But even violins aren't enough
to soothe us. No, our music is
missiles whistling a seamless melody
as they zero in on the target
with such ease. Preemptive strike.
Pogo was right, we were the enemy.
Ourselves, alone.

20 August 1998 
my grandmother's birthday

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