Friday, October 30, 2015

San Geronimo Valley fire photo

San Geronimo Valley fire; thought I'd missed the sliming episodes. So this is what my cousin Pat Ward does, he puts out fires. Captain Pat lost four fingers on one hand, and two on the other in the Valley Fire. But he's alive. This a a plane, I couldn't see the call numbers. Later, a helitac joined in on the fun, with a water scoop over the pond, surprising the fish and egrets, to no end. This one had a happy ending as CalFire had it under control in a very short period of time. Woodacre FD, good job, guys!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Amazon no longer supports Kindle app on legacy Macs, I can't access my books!

Amazon Cloud: whatta crocka caca! Amazon no longer allows those of us with the legacy Kindle app on our legacy Macs /OS, to download our purchased books. My Kindle app for Mac (Snow Leopard 10.6.8) no longer downloads or syncs content. This happened with NO advance warning that they were going to completely hamstring the old version of Kindle for Mac. Had I known, I would've downloaded everything. Especially my comments. Now I can't download any old, or new purchases. I can read what I have in my library, but now I can no longer sync between devices.

I spent a long time on Amazon Chat, airing my grievances with someone named Pooja, offshore. It became patently clear that they don’t do Macs in India, as Pooja kept offering PC style solutions. Amazon's final solution: either upgrade to OS X.9 (not even remotely possible on this old Mac), or, use Amazon Cloud. Right.

What can I say? The Amazon Cloud Reader is awful awful awful. Buggy, unresponsive, it stalls, hangs, and that's just for starters. I can't stand watching rainbow beachballs and gears endlessly spinning. Forget about searching the text—something I do a lot of when I write reviews. It's stuck on "indexing." (Restart, again.) Amazon Cloud webpage takes up a half a GB real memory? And even more VM? And all my comments are gone. I use the comment tool a lot to flag typos, bad writing, good lines, etc., for my Amazon book reviews.

Seems like a grand potential class action lawsuit scenario, Amazon orphaning those of us who have legacy hard/software, from our legally purchased ebooks. Amazon's response, that I can read it on Amazon Cloud or my iPod (too tiny, too much eyestrain for these old challenged eyes), is beside the point, and it's not a viable solution. I get it that software developed in 2012 is long in tooth, and needs to be sunsetted, it's one thing to no longer update it, but to hamper its functionality, is just wrong. If you're in a similar predicament, I suggest that you complain to Amazon. (See my transcript below).

Saturday, October 24, 2015



As I cull copies of old typed poems
& pair them with their electronic kin, 
a pile of paper orphans grows. Lost poems.
No equivalents. Only faded dot-matrix hard copies.
Seedy little islands of ink on paper,
the last stand of the printed word.
I've gone and disturbed those old poems.
They no longer dream of the past.
They've become a chattering wilderness, 
they invade my dreams, all jumbled up 
and juking about out of order.
Unreasonable harvest.

It all began last summer when I was laid up.
I couldn't open a file that had lain fallow,
it reverted into a gray Unix brick,
like a digital weedy cultivar gone rogue.
(Yes but think of all those trees I saved
by not printing them out. Now what?)
And other poems have lost vast tracts of text. 
Words just went missing. On walkabout.
Words no writer ever wants to hear.


Paper Trail

As I weed and ameliorate old copies of typed poems, & their revisions, with the electronic files on my hard drives, and with this blog (I've been posting my work by year as a means to keep track of it all—and it creates a nifty timeline as well), I have an ever-increasing pile of paper poems with no electronic files. No equivalents. Only hard copies. Makes me shudder. Makes me wonder what was lost.

So, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the dearth of work from 1995-2000 may be due to hard drive failure? This insane archiving process all started a couple of summers ago when I realized I couldn't open some old poetry and prose files, they'd reverted to gray Unix bricks. Other files, that I could force open, had lost chunks of text. Sometimes vast chunks of text. A writer's nightmare. And so, it continues. 

I had typed most of my old work from the early 80s into Appleworks, which later created a translation problem, but I was able to salvage most of it with old Macs I had rebuilt, but this paper trail is an entirely new dilemma as I contemplate what writing was lost. 

Words no writer ever wants to hear.

Weird to revisit that old writing, if I can find it, that is. I came across a pile of poems I had workshopped at Napa Poetry Conferences and realized that I didn't have electronic files for most of them. But clearly they had been electronic files as the hard copies are printed out in faded dot matrix.

I also found a few lurkers in back issues of Sonoma Mandala and other old publications from the 1980s. I still have a few more boxes of papers to sort, so hopefully the missing work will resurface. It's bad enough that I've lost most of my news stories and photo tear sheets from the Sonnoma County Stump and The Paper. But not my poems. Not the gumdrop muffins!

I figure I have a fighting chance to keep my work electronically current by using my blog! Alas, most of of my work is not on paper. Unfortunately it would kill the equivalent of an entire forest to print it all out. It was wildly liberating to know that you don't have to print out hard copy. My writing output grew exponentially.

Remember those electronic printer typewriters that printed out a line at a time? Expensive little film ink cartridges. Some of my work was from that machine, so there would be no electronic equivalents. But even still. Sheesh.

Some of those poems I had saved from the he 5 inch floppy disks to the the 3.5 inch ones. Even files on the 3.5" hard floppy disks are a challenge to rescue. The floppy dist themselves are reverting to ferrous oxide. I trolled them a while back.

I got a USB floppy disk reader (hard to find!)  from Craigslist. I met an Indian fellow in a San Jose parking lot at sunset. Very clandestine. But I suppose I could attempt another trolling. No matter how we back up our writing, it's all temporal. 

I think I decided a lot of my old writing wasn't worth upgrading to .doc files. I left it go fallow, not realizing it's all part of the matrix. 

A friend said: it is alive and well on some cloud out there... perhaps entertaining multitudes in outer galaxies.

Along with those old Jackie Gleason reruns.

Words no writer ever wants to hear (first draft)

As I weed and ameliorate old copies of typed poems, & revisions, with  their electronic files, an ever-increasing pile of orphan paper poems grows . No electronic equivalents. Only faded dot-matrix hard copies. Makes me shudder. Makes me wonder what else was lost. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the dearth of work from 1995-2000 may be due to hard drive failure. I began the archival process a couple of summers ago when I realized I couldn't open old files, they'd reverted to gray Unix bricks. Other files had lost chunks of text. Especially the endings of poems. A writer's nightmare. Words no writer ever wants to hear.

from a Facebook post
see Paper Trail

Maureen O Hara dies at 95

Today marks the passing of Irish film icon Maureen O’Hara at age 95. Paramount YouTube channel is hosting  several video tributes to her: Rio Grande, How Green Was My Valley, Parent Trap, Miracle On 34th Street, Quiet Man, Hunchback of Norte Dame. Maureen O'Sullivan (Mia Farrow's mother) was my mother's namesake, and mine, but Maureen O'Hara was also very much in the family matrix. Sláinte agat macushla mo chroidhe. 🍀Goodbye Maureen🍀 May the roads rise up to greet you and may you be in heaven ah half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015



My grannie taught me to write
old school Gaelic League Irish
with dots over the muted consonants; 
they were marked with a sí buailte,
a diacritic hangover from Old Irish.
Sí buailte means strike—not to strike,
no infinitive verb in Irish. Drop the fada 
Seán becomes sean, which means old, she said.
She didn't like reformed Irish at all. 
Modern typography couldn't  handle those dots
so haiches were added after the consonant.
"There are no Haiches in Irish, she scoffed. 
"Haich is a ladder to the sky, 
Haich is silent, holy, haich is like God." 
So I learned the old style writing
with long-tailed rs and esses
I learned to dot my Ts and Cs to soften them.
Then we had some tea with milk and sugar
as we silently worked on our letters.

Oct, 24/2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trudeau the Younger

“Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians. We’re back.” —Justin Trudeau
When I was in Vancouver in August, I was shocked by how much Canada had changed: it was gritty, cynical, and contained all the negative attributes of the US, and those attitudes had supplanted what made Canada unique. OK, so Vancouver isn't all of Canada, but I could really see/feel the change. Not so much in Victoria (I was last there in 2009), but then, Victoria is a tourist destination. Easier to hide the homelessness and desperation. The Canadian dollar may be worth less than ours, but everything is grossly overinflated. Food costs an arm and a leg. Makes the homeless in Stanley Park fear for their limbs. Much of Vancouver is now owned by multinationals. Here's hoping the corporate tide can be reversed. I have visited Vancouver scores of times since the early 1970s, I was there before Gastown was turned into Ghirardelli Square North. When It still really was a rough neighborhood. I even slept out in Stanley Park. Different times.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

White Peacock

This morning I threw on my Las Vegas Highland Games teeshirt, with its eulogized mascot, the missing white peacock. He's been missing from Floyd Lamb State Park for a couple of years now. Either a coyote got him, or maybe he was birdnapped. White peacocks are exceedingly rare. He was leucistic, not albino, he had expressive dark eyes.

I miss that old bird. Every time Neil would get on stage to sing, the paycock would hop on the black stage and join him. Then he'd do the I love you fandance tail thing. It was hysterical. The unlikely duo performed several sets like this together. We speculated that it must've been Neil's white hair that set the peacock off. And maybe his honeyed voice. Kindredness. But the peacock's version of singing was atrocious. Yelling Help! Help! when it wasn't even a Beatles song.

We all prefer to think he was birdnapped, someone stole in during the night and climbed one of the tall cottonwoods and grabbed him while he was sleeping. We curse the mysterious thief and wonder what kind of life that peacock is living now. That scenario is infinitely preferable to the other alternative, coyotes crunching bones. Of course, that whole wash is awash with bones—huge dinosaur bones, that is. You'd think they'd keep the coyotes busy and at bay.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Our firewood lady
was hatchet-faced, hard as nails,
drove a hard bargain.

Her husband was fond
of the bottle leaving her 
to raise three daughters.

All alone she was 
with no way to support them—
a grim countenance.

We called her Iron Pants
A hard woman, she
took no prisoners. 

Amazon women
stacked wood to the sky and kept
Daphne in the trees.

The hunters mourned them
for longing kindled a fire 
deep in the heartwood.

But those cords of wood
kept us warm against the cold,
kept the night at bay.

17 Oct. 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Poet role call, National Poetry Week poster from 1993

Blast from the past: National Poetry Week readings, 1993. Wonder where some of these folks are: Herman Berlandt is still on the Mesa. I visited Herman about 3 years ago and he has alcohol-related dementia, barely remembered me. Scary. Vernon Edgar looks in on him, takes care of him. Blind leading the blind. They seem to be enjoying life.

Last I heard. Julia Vinograd is still on the Avenue. She read at Watershed. Zoravia Bettiol moved back to Brazil; she may or may not still be with us. Robert Hunter, Mel C. Thompson, where are youse? David Fisher disappeared ages ago. I fear the worst. Last letter I sent was marked Return to Sender. What makes me especially sad is that I lost track of David and then couldn't find him again. I did several internet searches. Nada. Only to find he was alive all this time, only to find that he died this year. Sheesh! As Donna Champion said, Sometimes people retreat into their own lives, leaving past lives to the wind.

Bruce Isaacson said: Mel C. Thompson walks the earth! Made recent books by Deborah Fruchey and Nancy Depper, both excellent. All those found on the Facebook, but not Eli Coppola or Sparrow 13 who just doesn't compute. Dominique Lowell I think is walking Detroit,  Laura Conway walks Prague. Always wondered about Judy Grahn whose great A Woman is Talking to Death haunts mind still. Juan Felipe Herrera was walking Las Vegas recently and that was great treat.  Maureen--what a line up!  People don't know story of Herman Berlandt & Nat'l Poetry Week, they should.

I said, Wow. Blast from the past, or what Bruce? Fantastic roll call. I am relieved to know that Robert Hunter & Judy Grahn are still with us. Piri Thomas passed on. Sparrow 13 is on FB with a different name. I've got proof sheets from these readings. I just need a good negative scanner. Sad to hear about Piri Thomas. I really liked Piri.

I just met Pasha DeSaix yesterday at Whitman McGowan's memorial! All this time I thought she was a man. LOL. We're now FB friends. She knew my mom, and said she was just thinking of her a few days ago. I told her that she had given my mom a n audio tape, Leonard Cohen's 10 New Songs, and after my mother died, I played it incessantly. Thanked her for the unintended gift from so many years ago. Then she sent me a photo of my mom taken months before her death. The universe offering such strange gifts.

I had wild frenetic dreams all last night, I think Whitman was very much with us yesterday at the memorial. He was certainly in my head. I gave up on trying to sleep. Middle Aged Dub...

Whitman McGowan's joined Vampyr Mike Kassel, Joie Cook, Piri Thomas and David Fisher for that great open poetry reading in the sky. What a grand open mike list that must be. Wonder who's emcee?

From a Facebook post.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Trolling Old Journals

I found a stack of old journals mixed in with newer journals, and since I've misplaced most of my old writing, I took a peek, to see if there was anything I could glean, or steal.

My 1981 journals, where I spent the summer in Port Townsend, the Olympic Peninsula, and Pulsbo, were particularly rich, so I've been typing up (dictating) a few poems and prose pieces.

I was able to date several old poems, having found the original draft. What I discovered is that the writing is much more solid than I expected. Funny how you think your old work is inferior. And your new work accounts for shit. Perception. Not what it's cracked up to be.

I am enamored with my Port Townsend prose piece, and my Mt. Olympus piece, where I had a very, very close encounter with a Rocky Mountain goat.

These prose pieces would've never seen the light of day, as I only typed up poems. Prose scared me. But for the most part, it's solid and muscular. What was I thinking that it was all so bad? Part of why I began this blog was to teach myself to write prose. But the urge for story ran parallel with my poems. Anyway, should you want to peak, this link is a shortcut. (New work also in 1997, 98, and 2000. Not a lot. Yet.)

►  1981 (29)

It all began when I was uploading old poems to this blogspace, and I discovered that many of my files were corrupted. In particular, the electronic version of the HOH RIVER VALLEY file is toast. And I still haven't found the hard copy. It exists, but I don't have access to it.

My other long-term goal was to fill in the posts where I have too few poems for a given year. I am/was a prolific writer, so this is a search for lost work. Retyping old work is a bit like reinventing the wheel. But on the other hand, I'm treating it like revision.

Most of the 11 years I need more work for, are the years I don't have journals for, they're tucked away deep in a box in storage. 1998 to 2000, the years I was in grad school are particularly paltry. I know I have writing, but where is it? 1982 I was in a car accident, so I probably didn't write much. Ditto 1997/98. Some of those years I was in Amsterdam, or Russia, so it may be a case of typing up work that I never had a chance to make an electronic file.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Transliteration gone awry

I was practicing a poem aloud in Irish, but my speech recognition software, Dragon Dictate, was sneakily recording me. It made for a superb word salad of Misa Rafteri. It's so freakin' bizarre, that I had to record it three times just to see if there was any pattern or sense at all. I might go back and see if there is a phrase or two to salvage. But I think it's safe to say that Dragon Dictate does not recognize Irish. Not even tiny a little bit. So much for the Indo-European continuum. It's too weird to even steal lines from.
Cilla long dogfishes crawl the spoiler
Gonzalez to another skunk
wrong thing though she is a master list
soulless for three PhoneMag
if Tisha could get them on the fifth
and May the Mimiga Walla eggs cinnamon

the data must be finished by then
Mimiga Kuala eggs cinnamon

Michelin study Cilla long.
this is crawl the spoiler Gonzalez
to enough skunks wrong
they don't see a set of master list

soulless monthly phone
could get them on the fifth
and May the Mimiga Kawala eggs
cinnamon soiled of 4K follow

Study Cilla long Dulces's crawl
the soil or Gonzalez two and a skunk wrong
they don't see is that a master list soulless
monthly phone could get a monthly bill finish
May the Mimiga Kuala eggs cinnamon oil
the funky follow

This is the actual poem:

Mise Raifteirí, an file, lán dóchais is grá
I am Raftery, a poet full hope /love

le súile gan solas, ciúineas gan crá,
eyes without light silence without heart

ag dul síos ar m'aistear le solas mo chroí,
at going down on my journey to light my heart

fann agus tuirseach go deireach mo shlí;
faint and tired to the end of my road

féach anois me lem aghaidh ar Bhalla
look now my face at/against at Balla (a town) or wall

ag seinm cheoil do phócaí falamh.
at making /playing music with pockets empty

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Adze-Heads & Blind Poets: Anthony Raftery—The End of A Bardic Literary Tradition

Notes for a presentation on Celtic Bardic Poetry for the Sacramento Poetry Center.

SUMMARY: What is a Bard, historical, social role, examples, historical quotes, from Amergin to Antony Raftery with a segue on St. Patrick, aka Adze Head, the Viking era, the 17th-18th c, to the the end of an era, Blind Raftery, The Irish Renaissance (Celtic Twilight), WB Yeats, Padraic Pearse, etc.

The Celtic bardic tradition dates back to at least the Iron Age, and refers to a class of poets trained in the Bardic schools of Gaul, Iberia, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

Iron Age ‘bard’ (Brittany) & Celtic ‘Crwth


A Celtic bard was professional poet & storyteller, sponsored by a clan, or tuath, or patron (later associated with the big, or noble houses). An itinerant bard's job was to keep the king lists and genealogical records straight, praise a patron's ancestors, and to commemorate his heroic deeds. Court bards were expected to know 350 chief stories, 100 sub-stories, as well as have the ability to sing 100 different kinds of verse. They also needed to be able to tell epic tales such as the Táin Bó Cuailnge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recount the heroic exploits of CúChulainn, and Fionn mac Cumhaill, on demand. From memory.

And yes, there were female bards, “while admitting that females cried the Caoine* over the dead, yet in Cathluina we read, “The daughter of Moran seized the harp, and her voice of music praised the strangers. Their souls melted at the song, like the wreath of snow before the eye of the sun.”

**The modern word, to keen, comes from caoine, there were professional keeners in Ireland up to the 20th century.)

How did they manage  to do it? Keep all those tales in their heads? Memorize, memorize, memorize. Poetic and musical forms were important not only for aesthetics, but also for their mnemonic value. And yes, sometimes, the stories were lost. For example:
The chief poet, Senchán Torpeist, summoned a meeting of all the bards and story-tellers and professional poets of Ireland, in order to make sure if any one of them could recite the Tain completely. And they said they knew but fragments of it.
                   —Irish Texts Society, Douglas Hyde, 1899
(Senchán sent the bards off to Brittany to hone their epic chops.)

TYPES OF POETS (those poet-types)

• Old Irish: bard, fili, pl. filid, ollam, druid
       (Latin: vates; Proto Indo European widluios: seer)
• Modern Irish: bard (Ward) file, plural filí, ollamh/s
• Scottish Gaelic: bàrd, filidh, pl. filidhean,
• Manx Gaelic: bard, feelee,
• Welsh: bardd, pl. beirdd, gweled, ovate

Norse and Anglo-Saxon skalds & skops were considered to be liars, they made up things. They told tall tales.

English words scoff, and scold are derived from those AS poets.

Celtic bards, fili and ollamh were the tellers of truth. Truthsayers.

And there are among them composers of verses whom they call Bards; these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others.
                      —Diodorus Siculus
                          Histories 8BCE

Diodorus Siculus observed that “Bards; they applaud some, while they vituperate others,” Vituperate: berate, censure, condemn. Strong words.

A bard’s curse was nothing to sneeze at: not only could he raise boils, “he stopped by his power the corn's growth; and the satire of another caused a shortness of life.”

Bid móin 7 mothar a feranna-som co bráth.
Their lands will be boglands and thickets until judgement day.
They (bards) acted as heralds, knowing the genealogy of their chiefs. With white robe, harp in hand, they encouraged warriors in battle. Their power of satire was dreaded; and their praise, desired.
                 Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, James Bonwick, 1894


Ptolemy's map of the Pretanic Isles, ca. 150 AD —Wiki

So what was known about Ireland via the Classical world? Check out Ptolemy's maps. He has some placenames and tribe names listed, including the Brigante, Domnainn (Devnoni), (P-Celtic) Iverni, Volunti, Dairini (Dal Riata; Q-Celtic), and Cruithni (Picts— Cruithni  is a Goidelic corruption of Pretani). What Ptolemy's map documents is the earliest "evidence" of two Celtic languages in Ireland.


P-Celtic? Q-Celtic? Huh? P-Celtic is Pretanic, or Brittonic; Q-Celtic is Goidelic. 
P-Celtic (most of Britain, Cornwall, Devon, and Caledonia), closely related to Gaulish, favors plosive soundss like Ps; Q-Celtic (Ireland, Manx and most of Scotland) avoided P sounds and substituted K sound, so Welsh map (son of) becomes mac in Irish. Welsh pen (head) becomes ceann, or ben if it’s a mountain. Cornish pysk (fish) becomes iasc in Irish. Tad (father) becomes athair in Irish. What’s interesting about tad is that it’s avoiding the P sound too—as in pater. Can you see how tad became dad? That final d often gets swallowed, so it's closer to Da, than Dadd.

The Dinn Seanchas has poems by the Irish Bard of the second century, Finin Mac Luchna; and it asserts that "the people deemed each other's voices sweeter than the warblings of the melodious harp."
                Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions,
                          —James Bonwick, 1894

TRISKLE  / TRINITY  St Patrick said to introduce trinity via shamrock, but the concept of Indo European 3 is far older than that.


The Gael, from Espania (Galicia), the Milesians, were first mentioned in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, or the Book of Takings (redacted in the 11th c.). A Milesian, Iberian-born Amergin is considered to be Ireland's first bard, and Blind Raftery, is considered to be Ireland's last true Celtic bard.

Who were the MIlesians? The sons of Mil Espáine. Think of those Celts of Hispania/Iberia, as a shared culture with the Insular Celts of Britain and Ireland.

Their descendants still live in Galicia and Northern Portugal. Celtic languages impacted various dialects of Latin, which in turn, created the Romance languages. Remember that the next time you're in your car or chariot. Carros, Irish: carpait (chariot).

I know, the OED obfuscates word origins when it come to things Irish, it claims nearly all Irish words as being of Scottish origin. So the Irish contribution to English is practically nil, until you learn to code-read. But the Spanish and Portuguese didn't hate their Celtic neighbors with such fervor as the English. So words like car, chariot, and bag are cited. Bag, bolg, bolsa. We are the bagmen of trivia. But I digress.

THE MILESIANS COME TO IRELAND: a quick and durty redaction

Mil's grandfather, Ith, in his tower, said he could see Ireland. His sons wanted to know what kind of craic he was on, as they could see only clouds. But he was determined to follow that vision, so he packed up his family and set sail to the land of green. 

He came upon three Irish kings at Tara bitterly quarreling, so Ith, trying to be helpful, said to Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine.: “Perhaps you should follow the laws of your land.” That went over well. Not. Perhaos you should shut your gob, they replied. So they killed poor old Ith instead of each other. 

 (What catches my attention in this story is that they were all speaking the same language. No interpreters needed. So it wasn't a case of what gets lost in translation.)

Ith's kith & kin got rather pithy and took umbrage to the most grievously foul murder of their patriarch (Note that it's now a patriarchal society. Those weasely medieval monkish scribes. Note also that this was an oral tradition, not literary, as the Celts were not fond of writing. Poetry and epic were oral art forms. So sticking to the story was tantamount.) 

So Ith's kin and kin set sail with revenge in mind. The sent in the baddest of the way-bad poets. They sent in Amergin.
Amergin, brother of Heber,
was the earliest of Milesian poets.
Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions,
James Bonwick, 1894
The first Irish poem, "The Mystery", attributed to Amergin, a Milesian prince or druid who settled in Ireland hundreds of years before Christ, is from the "Leabhar Gabhala", or "Book of Invasions". Irish tradition has it that they were the first verses made in Ireland, perhaps they are amongst the oldest surviving lines of any vernacular tongue in Europe.'
—Douglas Hyde, A Taste of Ireland’s Poets


As Chief Ollam, (Poet Laureate/teacher) of Ireland, Amergin Glúingel ("white knees"), one of the sons of Míl Espáine, was also a druid. He calmed the wind by reciting a verse to quell a magical storm raised by the Irish Tuatha de Danann (Children of the Goddess Danu) to keep the Milesians from reaching shore. He sang an invocation to the spirit of Ireland. The Song of Amergin (aka The Mystery) is considered to be one of the oldest poems in irish, passed down in the oral tradition.
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea, (glosses)
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am a wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?
                                                               (If not I)
    — Translated by Douglas Hyde

(There are several translations of this incantation, including Robert Graves' version in The White Goddess. (My synopsis of The White Goddess, here.) I've compiled a revision using several translations, but I find that as a poet, I am most attracted to Douglas Hyde's version. Though it's an incantation, I suspect it's also a coded poem, something like a power brokering list, a remnant of a shape-changing poem, a collection of story titles, or even a calendar of sorts.

The storytelling season was during the winter months, beginning now, at Samhain, the Celtic New Year, and each bard was required to have a vast repertoire of poems, songs and stories committed to memory.

What little we do have of surviving poems from the Irish bardic tradition are written in Old Irish, or Latin Irish, and attributed to the 6th to the 10th centuries. But most of those poems were transcribed much later, in Middle Irish, during the 11th to 14th c. So dating the poems is tricky as the Irish language was changing,

(An aside: who first transcribed English? Yep, the Irish monks. By way of Latin and Irish.)


We know that the tradition of Amergin conservatively dates back to at least the 6th century, because in Wales, his counterpart (or doppleganger) is Taliesin of the "shining brow." In the Book of Taliesin, scribed in Middle Welsh, Taliesin is called Ben Beirdd, or Chief of Bards. Ben, pen, ap = head, and Beirdd is bard.

Another poet is mentioned. The name Aneirin, sounds suspiciously like Amergin.

Taliesin too incants a shape-changing poem (but in the past tense):

I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
I have been the light of lanterns. 
I have been a course, I have been an eagle.
I have been a coracle in the seas:
I have been compliant in the banquet.
I have been a drop in a shower;
I have been a sword in the grasp of the hand:
I have been a shield in battle.
I have been a string in a harp....
        XIII Kat Godeu, The Battle of the Trees
(See the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh (Cath Dédenach Maige Tuired) between the Tuatha Dé Danánn and the Formorians. And the Lebor na hUidre story of Tuan mac Cairill who retains his memories of all his incarnations, has a similar theme of invaders, and shape-changing: he awoke as a stag, a wild boar, cormorant, an eagle/hawk, a salmon, he was caught, eaten, and reborn human.
In another story, the sun goddess Etain, was turned into a pool of water, then a worm and a fly by a jealous wife, and as a tiny fly, she was accidentally swallowed and reborn.)

In the Tale of the Two Swineherds, Friuch and Rucht quarrel, and fight in various animal forms.They become two worms, swallowed by two cows; who give birth to the Whitehorn, and to the dun Bull of Cuailgne, the very animals that set off the war in the Táin (see my synopsis here). The Welsh parallel is Cerridwen and Gwion, who becomes a grain of wheat, Cerridwen, as a hen, finds and swallows him, and he is reborn as Taliesin. Shape-changing also plays a role in KIng Arthur (Le Mort d'Arthur, here), as well as in the Song of Amergin, Ireland's oldest vernacular poem.
The first Irish poem, "The Mystery", attributed to Amergin, a Milesian prince or druid who settled in Ireland hundreds of years before Christ, is from the "Leabhar Gabhala", or "Book of Invasions". Irish tradition has it that they were the first verses made in Ireland, perhaps they are amongst the oldest surviving lines of any vernacular tongue in Europe.'

                  —Douglas Hyde, A Taste of Ireland’s Poets
(A little archaeological rumination about the learnéd class:  The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: The Story of Lindow Man, an Archaeological Sensation  by Anne Ross & Don Robins


We tend to bandy about the term "bard" about lightly, and thanks to the political machinations of the English, the Celtic bard was reduced to little more than a wandering minstrel. But there was a time when a bard was much more than a musician. He or she was the cultural equivalent of Google, an arbitrator, and the Spotify playlist of the day.


Now, here's the thing, Irish chiefs and kings were supposed to offer hospitality and gifts to all strangers, especially wandering bards and ollamhs (professor bards). If patrons were to refuse hospitality, they were publicly satirized and shamed. Satire was considered the first true art form of Ireland.

Satirizing included a curse, and since the bards were a class of druid, poets' curses were something to be feared—even up to the Renaissance. That other Bard, whose grandmother was Irish,(yes, Shakespeare), could throw a curse or two. (Speaking on curses, a mayor renamed his castle Rougemont "Because a bard of Ireland told me once /I should not live long after I saw Richmond." —King Richard, Richard III.)


And what about Old Adze-Head, you ask? What's he got to do with it? The Irish poets called St. Patrick Ticfa Tálcenn, a reference to he who was crazed in the head, perhaps from wearing that pointy mitered hat.

Patrick’s real name was Maewyn Succat. "Padraig" was his holy name handle. He was a pig wrangler for seven long years.There was probably no love lost. It took him that long to learn Irish. But perhaps, St Patrick's arrival was the beginning of the end of the bardic tradition.... With the coming of a British slave captured by Irish raiders, everything changed.

Because you see....
Among the virtues of early Irish poetry are accurate observation and precise diction. Those early poets said exactly what they meant, and meant (for the most part) exactly what they said.
                                —Ancient Irish Poetry & Early Christian Verse
The Druids (bards, ollamhs, fili) in Erin “were assembled, and each of them exhibited his art before Patrick, in the presence of every chief in Erin.  —What did not clash with the Word of God in the written law, and in the New Testament, and with the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the laws of the Brehons by Patrick” ... was allowed.
               Cain Patrick, from the Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland
                A History of the Irish Nation,  Mary Francis Cusack, 1876
Not everyone thought that bringing Christianity was destructive (but I prefer the vernacular poetry, especially that scriptorium cat, Pangur Ban):
The introduction of Christianity gave a new and exalted direction to poetry.
                —The Dublin Penny Journal, Philip Dixon Hardy, 1832
Tícfa Tálcenn
tar muir mercenn,
a thí thollcenn,
a chrann crombcenn.
Canfaid michrábud
a mias i n-airthiur a thige;
fris-gérat a muinter uile:
'Amén, Amén.'

Across the sea comes Adze-head,
crazed in the head,
his cloak with a hole for the head,
his staff bent in the head.
He chants impiety
from his table in front of his house;
all his people answer:
'Amen, Amen.' 
from James Carney Medieval Irish Lyric Poetry & The bards


(There are other bards I could have entered here but covering such a vast track of time, but I had to include the story of Pangur Ban, a white Welsh cat. How do we know he's Welsh? Name begins with a P.)
The scholar and his cat, Pangur Bán(from the Irish tr. by Robin Flower )

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

The Blackbird of Belfast Lough 
The little bird
lets a whistle go
from the point of a beak,
bright yellow:
throws out a cry
above Loch Laíg,
a blackbird from branch
(a cairn of yellow). 
Int én bec
ro·léic feit
do rind guip
fo·ceird faíd
ós Loch Laíg
lon do craíb
from James Carney Medieval Irish Lyric Poetry & The bards


Another poem I toyed with, but Early Irish is more opaque than Middle Irish. But this one sums up the era.
Is acher ingáith innocht
fufuasna faircggae findḟolt
ni ágor réimm mora minn
dondláechraid lainn oua lothlind
Bitter is the wind tonight
It tosses the ocean’s white hair
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea. 
             (translation Kuno Meyer)
Bitter and wild is the wind tonight                                              
tossing the tresses of the sea to white.
On such a night as this I feel at ease;
fierce Northmen only course the quiet seas.
         (translation James Carney)

This was an anonymous marginalia poem found in an Early Irish manuscript  from the monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland, written ca. 850 AD, possibly composed at Nendrum, or Bangor monasteries, Co. Down, N. Ireland.
Fil súil nglais
fégbas Érinn dar a hais;
noco n-aicébá íarmothá
firu Érenn nách a mná.
There is a blue eye  (grey eye)
that will look back at Ireland;
never again will it see
the men of Ireland or her women.
    (translation Dennis King)

An 11th c. poem supposedly uttered by exiled St. Colum Cille as he sailed from Ireland in exile.

For two centuries after the invasion of Henry II (1170). the voice of the muse was but feebly heard in Ireland. The bards fell with their country, and like the captive Israelites hung their untuned harps on the willows
     —The Dublin Penny Journal,Philip Dixon Hardy, 1832
The Statutes of Kilkenny (Edward III, 1366) made it penal to entertain any Irish Bard; but Munster Bards continued to hold their annual Sessions to the early part of last century. Carolan, the old blind harper, called last of the Bards, died in 1738.
               —Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions,
                     James Bonwick - 1894
In 1522, English law existed in only four of the Irish counties; and Brehons and Ollamhs (teachers) were known to the end of the seventeenth century —Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland.
Now while our harps were hanged soe,
The men, whose captives then we lay,
Did on our griefs insulting goe,
And more to grieve us thus did say,
You that of musique make such show,
Come sing us now a Sion lay;
Oh no, we have nor voice nor hand,
For such a song, in such a land!"

—The Dublin Penny Journal, Philip Dixon Hardy, 1832
The bardic schools were still in existence in 17th c. Ireland and 18th c. Gaelic-speaking Scotland. But after Ireland was conquered by the English in the 1600's, the Irish language fell from grace. It was its death knell of a cultural tradition that spanned more than 1500 years. There were parallels in Scotland and Wales, but Ireland took the brunt of cultural genocide at the hands of the English.


Thomas Gray’s poem, The Bard, recounts the tale of Edward I’s massacre of the Welsh bards. The English carried on the tradition set by Caesar, to rid the world of Celts. (See my synopsis here.)

The Bard, Thomas Jones (1774)
Poised on the edge of cliff clutching a harp, the last surviving bard places a curse on the English invaders before leaping to his death. This dramatic history painting has become iconic for Wales. Based on Thomas Gray’s poem The Bard, it recounts the tale of Edward I’s legendary massacre of the Welsh bards.
Bards were highly regarded in Welsh society at that time, and were thought to be descendants of the Celtic druids. Jones makes this connection by giving his Bard druidic features – a long white beard and hooded robe. The stone circle in the background, based on Stonehenge, emphasizes the antiquity of the druid.
                 —National Museum of Wales

THE BARD: a Pindaric Ode —Thomas Gray 

“Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait!
Tho’ fanned by Conquest’s crimson wing,
They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor hauberk’s twisted mail,
Nor e’en thy virtues, Tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria’s curse, from Cambria’s tears!”
Such were the sounds that o’er the crested pride
Of the first Edward scattered wild dismay,
As down the steep of Snowdon’s shaggy side
He wound with toilsome march his long array.
Stout Glo’ster stood aghast in speechless trance:
“To arms!” cried Mortimer, and couched his quiv’ring lance

On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o’er cold Conway’s foaming flood,
Robed in the sable garb of woe
With haggard eyes the Poet stood;
(Loose his beard and hoary hair
Streamed like a meteor to the troubled air)
And with a master’s hand, and prophet’s fire,
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre.
“Hark, how each giant-oak and desert-cave
Sighs to the torrent’s awful voice beneath!
O’er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,
Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;
Vocal no more, since Cambria’s fatal day,
To high-born Hoel’s harp, or soft Llewellyn’s lay.

Enough for me: with joy I see
The diff’rent doom our fates assign.
Be thine Despair and sceptred Care;
To triumph and to die are mine.”
He spoke, and headlong from the mountain’s height
Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.

                               —Thomas Gray, 1757

The Bard by John Martin (1817)

Thomas Gray's poem kicked of the Romantic Movement as well as the impetus for the Celtic Twilight.

(See my UC Berkeley Celtic Studies synopses of The Bard, by Thomas Grey and The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Sir Walter Scott)


BLIND RAFTERY  Antoine Ó Raifteiri  or Aodhagan Ó Reachtabhra

Antoine Ó Raifteirí (1779–1835) is considered to be the last wandering Irish bard. By last bard, I mean, Raftery was the last of the itinerant Gaelic-speaking bards of Ireland who composed poems in Gaelic. He was born in Killedan, in County Mayo, Ireland in 1779 or 1784, His father was a weaver who moved to Killedan from County Sligo to work for a local landlord. Around 1785, Raftery's family caught smallpox. Within three weeks, Raftery's parents, and eight brothers and sisters had died. The last image young Anthony saw before going purlblind from smallpox was his family laid out on the floor for burial.

Raftery, who was a wandering bard (and fiddler), made his living by singing his songs and poems in the mansions of the rich Anglo-Irish gentry. He worked as a stableboy, but after a mishap when he ran his patron's favorite horse into a bog, drowning it, Antóin lost both his job and home, and became an itinerant poet.

Red-headed Raftery was slender and he earned his living by wrestling when his audience was too poor to pay him. He always wore a long frieze coat and corduroy breeches, and carried his fiddle in a sack. He eventually married and had children. But we don't know much more about him. Raftery died in 1885 and was buried in Kileeneen Cemetery, near Craughwell, County Galway.

Raftery's work utilized the traditional forms of Middle Irish poetry—that also marked the end of an old literary tradition. None of Raftery's poems were ever written down during his lifetime, but they were collected by his pupils, and by folklorists, including Yeats, and Lady Gregory, who published them. Raftery is mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses, and he is the blind poet commemorated in Yeats's poem, The Tower.
Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;
Yet, now I have considered it, I find
That nothing strange; the tragedy began
With Homer that was a blind man,...
                         —WB Yeats


My connection to Blind Raftery is a story of odd beginnings and endings. Raftery was one of the first Irish language bards I encountered while studying modern Irish at UC Berkeley.

At the end of the last century, U.C. Berkeley was experiencing a second Celtic Twilight, or renaissance, and the Celtic Studies Department was a vibrant place to hang out. I was pursuing my MFA, and needed a year of language, so, one summer I took what I thought was a beginning Irish class. It was easily the hardest thing I've undertaken.

My Irish teachers were Joe Nugent from Mullingar, and Breen (Bria) Ó Conchubhair, a Kerry man from Tralee. Breen is one of Irish language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's translators, along with Paul Muldoon.

My first Irish translation assignment was a short poem, Misa Rafteri / I am Rafteri. I can't find my version, but I labored long and hard over it,
Mise Raifteirí, an file,
lán dóchais is grá
le súile gan solas,
ciúineas gan crá
Dul siar ar m'aistear,

le solas mo chroí
Fann agus tuirseach,
go deireadh mo shlí
Feach anois mé

m'aghaidh le bhalla,
Ag seinm ceoil
do phocaí folamh.
I am Raftery, the poet,
full of hope and love
With eyes without light,
silence without torment.
Going back on my journey,

with the light of my heart
Weak and tired,
until the end of my way.
Look at me now,

facing the wall
Playing music,
for empty pockets.
Here is an interlinear literal translation:
Mise Raifteirí, an file, lán dóchais is grá
I am Raftery, a poet full hope /love
le súile gan solas, ciúineas gan crá,
eyes without light silence without heart
ag dul síos ar m'aistear le solas mo chroí,
at going down on my journey to light my heart
fann agus tuirseach go deireach mo shlí;
faint and tired to the end of my road
féach anois me lem aghaidh ar Bhalla
look now my face at/against at Balla (a town) or wall
ag seinm cheoil do phócaí falamh.
at making /playing music with pockets empty

Hear the poem read in Irish.


I teach poetry through California Poets in the Schools, and the first lesson I teach my young students is an I Am poem. Amergin is the model.

I am the water upon the sea
I was the one who challenged the wind
to sing upon the waves
I ran from the moon's shadow
that crept across the deserted plain
I dreamt of twilight's sadness
Who but I made all these things?
—Maureen Hurley
An in-class CPITS ditty that goes nowhere in particular, ca May 2008

And just to be cheeky, I've included:
THE DELIGHT SONG OF TSOAI-TALEE (N. Scott Momaday’s Kiowa name)
I am a feather on the bright sky
I am the blue horse that runs in the plain
I am the fish that rolls, shining, in the water
I am the shadow that follows a child
I am the evening light, the lustre of meadows
I am an eagle playing with the wind
I am a cluster of bright beads
I am the farthest star
I am the cold of dawn
I am the roaring of the rain
I am the glitter on the crust of the snow
I am the long track of the moon in a lake
I am a flame of four colors
I am a deer standing away in the dusk
I am a field of sumac and the pomme blanche
I am an angle of geese in the winter sky
I am the hunger of a young wolf
I am the whole dream of these things 
You see, I am alive, I am alive
I stand in good relation to the earth
I stand in good relation to the gods
I stand in good relation to all that is beautiful
I stand in good relation to the daughter of Tsen-tainte (White Horse)
You see, I am alive, I am alive

—N. Scott Momaday
OK I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek by adding a Kiowa poet, but do note Momaday's middle name. (Scott means Irish, BTW). The model is at hand. Amergin's influence is still with us today.


Of course the contender for the last Irish bard could be awarded to several poets, Certainly Turlough O Carolan (1670-1738), the blind harper, who also wrote in Gaelic. He too caught smallpox, went blind and was trained at the harp by Ruari Dall (dall means blind, hmmm). Turlough composed 214 praise songs, or planxties for English ascendancy families. Sí Bheag, Sí Mhor is one of my favorite pieces.

Thomas Moore (1776-1852 ), Ireland's national bard, like Scotland's Robert Burns, wrote solely in English: most notably "The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls", "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms", "The Minstrel Boy" and "The Last Rose of Summer". His melodies are not traditional, but were often based on modern compositions (like O Carolan). Moore adopted an English accent and moved to London. When his friend Lord Byron died, making Moore his literary executor to publish his memoirs, Moore burned them. Augh!

And you might argue that the Celtic bardic tradition carries on in the form of Irish folk songs, but they are part of the Anglo-Irish tradition, vs the Gaelic tradition. An important distinction, once removed from the primary culture through a foreign language.

Since I had an accidental I Am theme going on in this lecture, I chose Raftery (1779-1885) who is often referred to as the last itinerant, or wandering bard. Neither O Carolan or Moore were old school wandering bards, though they indeed were bards.

Mise Éire
Mise Éire:
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra 
Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga. 
Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair. 
Mór mo phian:
Bithnaimhde do mo shíorchiapadh. 
Mór mo bhrón:
D’éag an dream inar chuireas dóchas. 
Mise Éire:
Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
I am Ireland:
I am older than the old woman of Beare. 
Great my glory:
I who bore Cuchulainn, the brave. 
Great my shame:
My own children who sold their mother. 
Great my pain:
My irreconcilable enemy who harrasses me continually… 
Great my sorrow
That crowd, in whom I placed my trust, died. 
I am Ireland
I am lonelier than the old woman of Beare. 
—Padraic Pearse, 1912
Padraic Pearse © Jim FitzPatrick 2015 
But the envoi I leave you with, is that Padraic Pearse too wrote an I Am poem, and since he is considered one of the founding fathers of Ireland, it seems like a fitting place to close this story, from the mythic beginning of a nation, its death, its reincarnation and its rebirth.
As Padraic Pearce said: 
Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.
A country without a language
is a country without a soul.

My grandmother instilled in me the importance off language, she said use it well agains them. Perhaps this is why I became a poet. I am hot fluent in Irish but I can get by in the enemy tongue.

I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
"Come out of charity
And dance with me in Ireland.'
       William Butler Yeats


I want to leave you with the name of a modern Irish poet who carries on the tradition of Irish poetry, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill of Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, who calls the Irish language "the corpse that sits up and talks back."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Toofta (folklore)

I grew up with a Norwegian prankster named Toofta. Our next-door neighbors, the Haugen sisters from Seattle, observed many Old World Norwegian customs, and also drank like Vikings, hitting the bottle after breakfast was not unheard of during the holidays. We pretended we didn't notice when their drinks went missing, we played along with them looking for Toofta, an invisible wight (similar to our leipreachán), who had a fondness for screwdrivers and eggnog.

Toofta is an invisible singularity of a wight—he is not in the internet, he's unlisted. Perhaps that's a good thing. He's a thief with a fondness for booze. Perhaps he's a Nisse, a Vittra (but they're plural social beings) or a singular entity, Tomte.
"Other names are tuftekalltomtegubbe or haugebonde, all names connecting the being to the origins of the farm (the building ground), or a burial mound." 
Tomt means house, or farm loft.

What excites me is finding the word: tufte-kall. Toofta, is that you? He was associated with Christmas.... And perhaps Toofta was the Haugan sisters' own personal wight. Haugkall means mound man... Think Harry Potter's house-elf, Dobbin.

I was about 4 or 5 years old when I first heard about Toofta. He was generally associated with theft of food or drinks. He was most active during the Christmas holidays, when we were baking cookies.

I wrote more formally about him here (with this new addition) for Alan Dundes' folklore class.
Folklore: Foodways, saying, a food thief/ house sprite. But that post is far away from my Marconi Station post.

The Haugen's parents came from Bergen, if I remember correctly, Janet, Sally (who was simple), Einer, Borg and Agnes grew up in Seattle in a Norwegian-speaking household. I went to visit their family in Seattle, they had a big house on a hill overlooking Puget Sound. Einer must've lived in that house with his sons David and Ken. (I wrote about Ken here: Puget Sound). Last time I saw the Haugen boys was 1981.

Janet lived at their summer home on Vashon Island, taking care of Sally. They had an uncle Otto who lived in Norway, and I remember when he came to visit at Agnes's place. He didn't speak a word of English, but he also mentioned Toofta. They observed many Norwegian customs, some of which I've inherited by osmosis.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Marconi's Oranges

One dreary winter afternoon we drove out to the coast along the eastern shore of Tomales Bay with our Norwegian neighbor Agnes, and her sister Borg Haugen, who both loved the sea. The Haugen sisters also drank like Vikings, hitting the bottle after breakfast was not unheard of during the holidays.

We pretended we didn't notice, we played along with Toofta, an invisible wight (similar to our leipreachán), who had a fondness for screwdrivers and eggnog. After a morning's liberal libation, the sisters grew restive, and longed to be in sight of the sea. So we piled into the green Packard and would often wind up, somewhere along the coast.

As we headed out to Marconi Station near Marshall, my grannie who sailed over from Bantry Bay on the world's largest passenger ship, the Lusitania, Lady of Inverclyde (it was torpedoed in 1915), told us a story about Valentia Island, off the coast of Kerry. She said that Valentia Island was hooked up to the Marconi Station in Tomales Bay.

Somehow Hawaii was also involved with my childish equation of Marconi Station, as Agnes received ship-to-shore calls from her husband Lucien, a merchant marine. No matter that I thought those sea cliffs of the Farallon Islands were Hawaii. Borg said that she sailed to Waikiki on a Cunard ship and it took days to get there, yet I could see the islands from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sunday evenings we'd gather round Agnes's radio and listen to Hawaii Calls on the radio. The idea of Pearly shells from the ocean, shining in the sun....crackled across the sea, fired my imagination.

As my grandmother elaborated upon the stringing of those transatlantic cables, the wonderous Guglielmo Marconi, Morse Code, telegrams, or marconigrams, I was confounded. I envisioned those really long cables stretched under the oceans still being used a hundred years later.

Though I was only a child, even I knew that Ireland was a long way from the shores of Americay, and that we were due west of west. And the world was a really big place, Hawaii aside. Not only was there the Atlantic ocean to cross, but the entire continent of North America in the way.

The old ship-to-shore Marconi telegraph receiving station was built after my grannie had left Ireland for good, in 1912. After a mishap, she was late and missed the boat, which happened to be the good ship Titanic, laden with Irish immigrants—otherwise I wouldn't be there to tell you this story.

The old Marconi Station, near the site of the old Coast Miwok village Echa-kolum, had been closed since 1939. During the early 1960s, it was converted to a drug rehabilitation center called Synanon. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A sober utopia. There was a big spread on it in the Sunday Paper. We had no idea that Synanon would become synonymous with evilness incarnate, but that's another story. It should've been renamed Narconi Station.

It must've been mid-winter when we took that drive north along Tomales Bay toward Dillon Beach. It could've been a day straddling either side of Christmas. The sky was overcast. Perhaps it was drizzling. A soft Irish day, my grannnie would always say. 

Perhaps I was grousing over a lack of adequate Christmas gifts, or perhaps I was was ever hopeful for pie in the sky kind of Christmas. Seeding the field, so to speak, for Christmases to come. Christmas was a meager affair, as my grannie's small pension barely covered the necessities. I was dependent upon our neighbors for gifts.

My grannie also told me that every Christmas her brothers and sisters each got one sweet Valentia orange wrapped in foil for Christmas. That was it. It was something to be savored, its seeds duly counted. One for each member of the family, if luck would have it. The trick was to hold out and eat it after everyone else had eaten theirs. Then eat it in front of them. Slowly.

Sometimes my grannie and her siblings got a few walnuts and sultana raisins, or tiny currants—like the kind she added to Irish sodabread—too if her parents could afford it. Sweetmeats were considered luxuries in the west of Ireland at the end of 19th century.

There wasn't anything much to see at Marconi Station. Not even a plaque. A disappointment. I kicked the sand as they admired the pullout off Highway One. I didn't understand it was the end of an era. They had no camera, but the day is indelibly etched in memory.

Unraveling my grannie's convoluted stories is probably why I became a writer. I couldn't see or hear that silent 't" in Valentia, and confused it with Valencia oranges. The conundrum haunted me. See? Suits you to a "t," as my grannie might say as she handed me a proverbial orange. 

But then, adults were always doing inexplicable things—like driving up the coast on a  whim, not wanting to stop so we wound up in Gualala staying the night with not even a toothbrush between us, let alone pajamas.

What I learned was: Valencia is in Spain. Valencia, spelled with a "c" was once a river island. They grow Valencia oranges there. Apparently they wrapped them in gold foil for export, a real Christmas treasure. Valencia oranges came from India, or China. 

My grannie loved Valencia oranges. Too sweet for me. I prefer tangy tangerines or naval oranges—don't even ask me about the conflation of bellybutton (really a lost orange twin) and nautical equation). A good thing I didn't know about Valencia, California.

Valencia, located on the orange blossom coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was once spelled Valentia, in rough Latin, meaning strength/valor.  Its Moorish nickname was Medina bu-Tarab/Turab (either city of joy, or city sand, depending on the mis-translation.) However, a Marconi station was built in Aranjuez near Madrid, Spain. It means hawthorn in Basque. So, magic was afoot. It seems those Marconi stations were everywhere.

Valentia Island, spelled with a "t." is located in County Kerry, Ireland. Why they called it Valentia, after Valencia, Spain was a complete mystery. Maybe they really liked Christmas oranges, my ten-year-old mind reasoned. Or they liked Marconi. Of course, I confused Marconi with macaroni and wondered what pasta salad had to do with Yankee Doodle.

Then, there's one of the old Roman names for the fifth province (Northern England (Eboracum /York) and Southern Scotland), also called Valentia, either named after Valentinian, or his brother, the Eastern emperor Valens ("Land of Valens,"), or it's a wordplay on the Latin vallum ("wall"). Or it could be a wordplay off  the Welsh, as in Wal/Val.

Valentia Island is a malapropism, a corruption from Oilean Dairbhre—means the Island of the Oak Woods (pronounced dwervne). I was disappointed to discover that Valentia Island is not even remotely located in Spain, but it is one of Ireland's most westerly points off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.

Before the Transatlantic Cable was installed, it took a fortnight or longer for messages to reach North America from Europe by boat. Valentia was where transatlantic telegraph communications cables were laid from Telegraph Field, the "birthplace of global communications" at Foilhommerum Bay, Ireland, to Heart's Content, Newfoundland in 1866, some 2,300 nautical miles away—after six unsuccessful attempts (1857).

Valentia was formerly an island studded with oaks and apparently some rampant resident druids. The telegraph was one of history's game-changing moments, global telecommunications, the ancestor of the internet. That's pure wizardry at work. Imagine that. It was like a case of Marconi's oranges colliding on Christmas. 

On 16 August, 1858, transatlantic communication was established. The message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men.” Unfortunately the overexcited engineer fried the cable. In 1866, the final cable was laid. The Valencia Transatlantic Cable Station was laid to rest in 1966. And in 2013 it was up for sale. I wonder who bought it?

I know I've wandered far and wide in this memoir, but that's the shape of memory. Back then, if I knew what he adults were up to, I wouldn't have had this story to tell now, would I? Perhaps that tangled up day was the first day of the rest of my life. A self-examined life, as told through memoir, itself, an oxymoron for truth, such as it is.

Writing too, is an addiction, from which there is no recovery, nor cure. I understand that full recovery is impossible. As I write these words, I discover anew, that today, as always, is the first day of the rest of my life.