Diagnosing Ireland # 2: “Home is where …”

1. Quickly referred to the non-fiction feature article written by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (in week’s 1 handout) about her overpowering desire for another child:
My Ma is amazed that five of my seven pregnancies were planned. “We just got pregnant; we were glad of a miscarriage,” she said after my second loss. But I find miscarriage extremely hard to get over – apart from the avalanching hormones, there is the anger towards my body and what I have begun to refer to as “my rotten eggs”

I’m frozen – I cannot shake the cold from my bones. From my seat on the stage in County Hall I can see a slice of the sea. When my fellow reader is answering his interview questions, I focus on that wedge of water but, like a phantom, the scan image of the empty pregnancy sac floats into view. The black, black hole of it. And the sonographer’s words: “Blighted ovum”, words I have heard before. Words that mean this foetus was, most definitely, made from one of my rotten eggs.
2. ‘Quare Name for a Boy’ by Claire Keegan (in her collection of short stories, Antartica), a story about a woman who is unsure of what she is doing about her pregnancy and “comes home” to decide. She observes her relatives’ reactions and describes their routines (involving tea and potatoes) … their interest in how she making her way in life, in her clothes and how they fit her body. And then she meets the father of the baby she is carrying:
“The green wood hisses in the grate, the resin oozing out from the loosening bark. Lines of connecting sparks, what my grandmother called soldiers, march across the soot, but you say nothing. Whatever you say, I’ll manage. I will live out of a water-barrel and check the skies. I will learn fifteen types of wind and know the weight of tomorrow’s rain by the rustle in the sycamores. Make nettle soup and dandelion bread, ask for nothing. And I won’t comfort you. I will not be the woman who shelters her man same as he’s boy. That part of my people ends with me.”
‘Drink up,’ you say, gesturing to my glass. ‘A girl in your condition needs lots of iron.’
       And so I drink my pint of Irish stout [ALCOHOL], taking comfort in the fact that you’ve named the mineral hidden in the white stripe of its head.
3. ‘Emissary’ by Angela Patten: the cows, “mouths stained green with grass stubble”, remind the poet of a famine story and she wonders why, fleeing to the town and the pub [ALCOHOL]:
“It’s still potatoes and conversation,
the same trick of living between two worlds.
No part of this watery island is more
than sixty miles away from the sea.
The stories creep up like water in your lungs,
and you can’t breathe for choking on the past.”
4. I Could Read the Sky by Timothy O’Grady
What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the MANNERS of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P. J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand THEIR jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering.
Then he describes his father’s funeral, for which he has returned to Ireland, including the appearance of the men down the back of the church
“The heads are like the eggs of a giant bird balanced in a line along the back pew. The skin on their heads is dry and papery and white, some maybe with faint brown marks from age. You would only see this skin when the men are in church or in their beds for at all times they are in their caps…
“In the eyes of Sarah McCabe there is a look of awakening.”
And particularly the Protestant boy who learned the Irish flute from his father, travelling 11 miles by bus.
5. ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’ by Paula Meehan
“I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,

and she lay down alone at my feet

without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand

and she pushed her secret out into the night,

far from the town tucked up in little scandals,

bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,

and though she cried out to me in extremis

I did not move,

I didn’t lift a finger to help her …”

6. ‘Long Distance’ by Belinda McKeon, about a woman who comes home to Ireland not long after the death of her father … It captures a new generation of Irish adults emerging from a family-based, largely closed community 
“… just one more thing on the horizon of things unbothered with; just part of the rainfall, part of the wind-gust, part of the pile upon pile of day upon day.”
The mother is NOT peeling potatoes but preparing roses.
” … They are all over the stems; they are all over … the parts fallen into sink and onto the floor; they look like a virus still thriving and still spreading; a virus of blankness and space.”
But “they” are ONLY the bites of leafcutter bees… “Sure you’d only notice them if you looked up at them too close.”

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