Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas Envy
I remember only one ordinary Christmas from my childhood in Alaska.  I was about eight. Our log cabin smelled of pancakes and the six of us were delighted. The spruce tree was plunked between the sink and the dowdy couch, the lights on the tree were the shape of eggs and if you dared to touch the blue or green or red bulbs, they were so hot they’d bite you. Santa brought me a doll, I named her Suzanne. My Dad and brother built Suzanne a cradle to sleep in. I loved the cradle as much as the doll; building such a perfectly slatted present for me was the nicest thing anyone had ever done. When the cabin smelled strong of sage and onions steaming inside of the turkey, Bob Mackey, a quite bachelor with a big laugh who often said ‘that’s right’, arrived with presents for all of us. Mine was a round plastic container, bigger than my two small hands, and full of make up. Real make up. Rouge, powder, lipstick—real winter-sunset pink lipstick. Lipstick so powerful that it continues to out-shine other early memories of Christmas.
Since then all my Christmases have been unusual. There was that Christmas with Richard when I sweated over a sewing machine and created him a brown and gold kaftan bathrobe. All those stitches, all that velvet. It was like my love for him: warm, rich, laborious, sensual. He ran out on Christmas Eve night and bought me a French pot in which to make baked beans, his favourite winter slow-baked meal. I felt like beaning it over his head.
Then there was the Christmas with Bobby, a commercial fisherman, my soul-mate, my perfect captain. Bobby and I walked that Christmas, hand in hand, arm in arm. Our big boots crunched the snow through gaily-lit residential streets in Anchorage. Most houses had two trees decorated, one in the garden smothered with snow, lights on the branches projecting dizzy rainbows; and one inside decorated with tiny white lights, and mono baubles. Purple was in that year. The warmth we felt for each other ricocheted off the amber street lights which were softened by small, constant flakes.
‘So polite of them to leave the curtains half drawn so we can have a good look,’ he said. ‘Kiss me again.’
Giddy and high on each other, we walked through that Christmas not wanting to eat or gift, unaware that by the following Christmas he would be scooped up by a leggy waitress.
My best Christmas ever was in Hawaii, where seasonal affective disorder is cured by plumerias, where Mele Kamakamaka is spent eating pineapples on the beach, where the water calls you in, buoys you up and everything hangs loose in a world wrapped too taut.
I moved to Ballinderreen, Co. Galway, December 6th, 1996, when the village was genuine and quiet; before the three bicyles in each family were replaced by at least two expensive cars, before generation X dwarfed their parent’s homes by building mansions for themselves in the nearest field. It felt strange to land in the village right before Christmas, but I wanted to see what Christmas was like here. The pubs were packed day and night. Music was everywhere. It rained, then rained some more. No shops open on a Sunday. Everything ground to a halt for two weeks. I searched Galway for a fax machine to send important paperwork to Washington D. C. for a possible internship, but never found one. The pubs got hotter, more crowded; I was an exotic creature pursued by men who assumed all Americans slept with everyone. I assumed most of them were married, too merry to be real. Two kind families invited me over for Christmas dinner, I said yes to both and then stewed about how to get out of the other invitation. I chose the family who were good to my father for years before his death.
The four young children were delighted with the present from Santy and a surprise. I loved it that they were content with two gifts. The father and I were served a gorgeous dinner at the small table in the kitchen. I was mortified when the mother and children did not sit down with us. After everyone had eaten in shifts we watched Daniel O’Donnell on the telly and then a program about the life of Hitler and I was convinced that I had willingly moved to hell.
When my daughter, Lily, was three years old my mother, my sister Eileen and her two children, Enid and Kyle, and I went to a charming village called Vera, in Spain, for Christmas. We rented a house and my friend, Vera Svensson, from Stockholm joined us. Vera in Vera brought ingredients for a Swedish smorgasbord in her suitcase for Christmas day dinner. Too cold for swimming, we spent our days walking on sage-covered earth and our nights gawking at the stars. Epiphany week brought a parade of Wise Men to the ancient village. Wild coloured floats were loaded with joyful people wearing crowns who fiercely threw hard sweets to us spectators who were shouting, catching, rejoicing.  I had to put the rain-cover over Lily’s stroller to protect her from the sweet-pelting sky. She learned to walk in Vera, and I can still hear the darling Spanish grandfathers at the park—not noticing or not affected by her Down syndrome—cooing encouragement to her, my Galway girl who wore thick tiny pink glasses and stiff red orthopaedic boots.
I often envy people who have the same menu in the same house with the same people with the tree in the same corner and watch the same Sound of Music with the same box of chocolates quietly disappearing. Envy is not a good thing.  I atone the envy with monetary contributions to Childline, Doctors Without Borders, Concern and an Anti-Gun lobby. And I remind myself that Lily and I constitute a family. Perhaps we will find other exiles in Ireland to invite over for the day. They will know what it is like to carry another country in your warmest pocket and how good it is to share the same moon.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Whales, Walker, Jet-lag

I'm a writer trying to get back on my bike. I have two fractures in my pelvic bone, a house that must have shrunk when we were in Alaska, a jet-lagged teen, and a million things to do that are waiting for me to figure out how to do them while pushing a walker.

Like hanging clothes on the line. How do I get them from the washing machine to the clothesline? My favorite chore is now a challenge, and my arse can't sit on this chair for very long. I will have to figure out how to write standing up. Or laying down.

We were in a car crash July 24th. Lily was not hurt. When I looked at her in the back seat she looked like a fairy, her long hair covered in sparkles of glass, her face speckled with freckles of mud splashed on her through the blown out windows. My old Mom was hunched in the seat next to me, groaning. 'We will be okay,' I said. Then men came. They were just changing shift at the Department of Transportation. They rang the ambulance. The dispatcher wanted to know if we needed one ambulance or two. 'I don't know, just get us out of here.' My door was stuck. I wanted out. Mom's door was open, but moving her was not an option. Lily's was stuck, too. The airbags were small round white donuts, flattened and smoking. I was afraid of fire. A trooper came to my window. His presence calmed me. A pretty young woman in a pink shirt appeared at Lily's window. She asked Lily a few questions, kept her mind off of the 20 minute wait we didn't know we had until our doors were chainsawed open. I wondered who that pink angel was.

She was the driver who gunned her engine and sent our car flying into a light pole at 55 miles an hour. The light pole was engineered to collapse on impact. It bent like a straw. The car flipped end over end. We are alive.

And for a while, I don't know how long it will take, my life will be divided into Before Accident and After Accident.

Before Accident we had fun with family and friends; we settled into life in Mom and Peggy's house and took trips to the library, the bookshop, and to Homer. A few weeks later we went to Seldovia. We missed the Tustumena ferry from Homer to Seldovia, so we flew on Homer Air. A man from Nanwalek who was a child when I flew across Kachemak Bay to work years ago was on the plane. It was so good to see him. Lily shook with excitement as we flew over the Homer Spit, her smile as big as Alaska. Our friends in Seldovia took her up the slew in a three holed kayak. They were so good to us. After a few days in lovely Seldovia we took the fast ferry, owned and operated by the Seldovia Native Association, back to Homer.

Half way there the captain announced that there were whales--humback whales--he stopped the boat, invited Lily to stand by him and pointed to where a whale would surface in a few minutes. But there was more than one. There must have been two dozen. We sat in the pod for half an hour. A tail to port, another one just off the bow, Jesus, two to starboard! Their black backs bent into perfect C's, slow humps of joy, followed a second later by their beautiful W-shaped tails. The sea moved under and around us, peppered with a city of small black colored birds who were also feeding on krill. Black thrills, gentle grey swells, sunny lavender sky, Lily and the Captain. The silent swoop of black backs, the great exhale. The tail. Such a huge dose of magic; visuals we will carry forever.

After the Accident we had to stay a few weeks longer than planned in Alaska because I was not fit to fly. It was all very weird. The panic about my mother and her cracked ribs; the agony of her intense pain, so many questions about a woman in her nineties recovering from such physical trauma. My own pain. The reality of our family in crisis. The rudeness of well-meaning people; the insurance man wanting a statement when we were barely able to talk. The sweetness of friends who brought meals to Jean's house, where Mom was nursed by my cousin Suzanne. The non-refundable tickets back to Ireland. The stack of nasty letters from banks and credit cards. The ice cream and card games. Lily's guitar lessons from Mike Morgan. Floating hostilities, small miracles. The slopes in sidewalks that accommodate my walker. The nice people who pushed our wheelchairs in Seattle and Chicago. The tallness of life in a short wheelchair. All those writing deadlines I missed. My mother's remarkable will to live. My fear of driving and digging deep enough into the 'get on with it' well.

I think of all of this as my clothes sit in the washing machine. And I wonder if I will hit the post on this first bit of writing After Accident. And I think of the young lady in pink and hope she is coping. And the humpback whales. I fall asleep and wake thinking about them.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I'm a Person First

 A short rant.

If I hear the words

 'she had a Downs';

 'He didn't want to date me because I have a Downs child'; (consider yourself lucky, Girlfriend)

'They have a Down's syndrome';

'That Down syndrome girl in...'

one more time I am going to...scream, stand on my head on the busiest road I can find, kick a tree, phone George Bush.
This is Lily. She is a serious student, a good neighbor, a friend, a daughter, a guitar player, a poet, a reader, a theatre-goer, an enviromentalist, a teenager, a door-slammer, a cat-lover, a soccer player, a basket-ball player, a fan of her two presidents, a rock-painter, a hiker, a dancer, a budding cook, a granddaughter, a niece, a dedicated recycler, a sister. Furthermore, she is not always happy. She is a person with a full range of emotions. She is not an angel, never will be.

Google Down Syndrome Ireland, they will send you two jpg posters from their 'I'm A Person First' campaign.

Meanwhile, use person-first language. 

Or feck off.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Love Poems; a few poems I love

homage to my hips

By Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,   
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
Late Fragment
Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Lauren Zuniga

Put on your knickers, girl. We gonna eat these heavy
decisions for breakfast. Smother ‘em in gravy, wash ‘em down
with Grown Ass Woman Soda.

We got this. This is the Big Girl Processing Plant.
Don’t nobody work through their issues like we do. We swallow
abandonment and cough up independence.

You wanna scream? You see that freight train coming at you?
You havin’ that lead-in-yo-legs dream again? Kick that
muthatruckin’ train in its teeth and do a jig.

That’s what you need. Some Mongolian Throat Singing action
and a can o’ Riverdance. Unwad your drawers, Little Mama.
Let’s go to the drag show.

Bust out yo corset, Sweet Ginger and show ‘em all that bouillon.
We were made for the stomp. We were made out of spoon
whittlin’ voodoo stew. Play those spoons, girl.

Don’t let ‘em take your dysfunction and turn it into a brothel.
That’s YOUR dysfunction. You chop that shit up and make it
into a masterpiece. This is the year of Quit the Dumb Shit.
So, you know what that means?

Quit the dumb shit. Stop washing your pearls down
with swine. Get up off your Cadillac britches and show them motor
mouth badgers how it’s done. Everything ain’t gonna be alright.
Everything is going to be amazing.

[From Lauren Zuniga,  The Smell of Good Mud]


    old crow of a woman in bonnet, sifting through the dump
salvaging those parts of the world
neither useless nor useful

she would be hours in the sweatlodge
come out naked and brilliant in the sun
steam rising off her body in winter
like slow explosion of horses

she braided my sister's hair with hands that smelled of deep
roots buried in the earth
she told me old stories

how time never mattered
when she died
they gave me her clock 

The Video 
 Fleur Adcock

When Laura was born, Ceri watched.
They all gathered around Mum's bed -
Dad and the midwife and Mim's sister
and Ceri. 'Move over a bit,' Dad said -
he was trying to focus the camcorder
on Mum's legs and the baby's head.

After she had a little sister,
and Mum had gone back to being thin,
and was twice as busy, Ceri played
the video again and again.
She watched Laura come out, and then,
in reverse, she made her go back in.


Galileo by Declan O'Rourke is my current favorite love song, it's on You Tube. 

Two anthologies of contemporary poetry that I love are both edited by Neil Astley:
1. Staying Alive and 2. Being Alive. I hope he edits another one soon.