A Rub of the Green
A child among timeworn men, I learn traditional songs, if ever there’s going to be a life hereafter, with the correct words, no messing about with watered down lyrics, for back in the Emerald Isle ‘they’re hanging men and women for the wearing of the green’. I listen as all the ageless grievances are aired yet again by the exiles who parade around the family kitchen.
I study the old ways and practice songs and tales from Ireland until they become familiar. As for those men, I met them in later life, at my mother’s funeral, knowing I had never really known them or understood them, those uncles and cousins, realizing that my family had split apart a long time ago down religious and racial lines. Yet I still sensed our closeness and recognized the familiar map of Ireland drawn in their ageing faces.
Their Weltanschauung was Irish Catholic while mine was Anglo-Welsh, tinged with Methodism. Each new school I attended introduced me to a new faith and eventually I believed in none of them. I became an outcast, standing on the outside, looking in. I often wonder what the early immigrants to Canada the French and English, Irish and Scottish, when they first came here. What did they see and, conversely, how were those people seen, and by whom? Who now will tell those stories and bring those early cultures back to life?
Today, I sit on the shore at Indian Point and listen to the silence. I wait for the wind’s whisper as it whisks all footprints from the sand. I hear the song of the sea as it rises and falls. In my mind’s eye, I watch the rocks as they slowly crumble and I repeat the song of the stones as they grind together, metamorphosing unhurriedly into sand.
It takes a juggler to hold all this ancient world together especially when the old nests are empty and the birds have all flown. Wave foam slips into a single footprint abandoned in the mud and sand. All around me there are tales to tell and songs to sing. Some of them are even mine.
I often think about an immigrant’s first foot-print, a lone print on an empty beach, waiting to be swept away by the rising tide. Man Friday, perhaps. Or was it Man Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday … Man Saturday is best. But it’s never on a Sunday, so Man Sunday is as impossible as Woman Sunday, for the sadness of our memories exiles our better halves, our better two-thirds, our better three-quarters.
All around us, there are songs to sing, stories to tell, words to repeat, wordless moments to recreate. “Patience and shuffle the cards,” Cervantes wrote. “Distinguish between all those false sirens, your one true voice.” That’s Antonio Machado. Find your own star and follow it. That might even be me, though it’s probably in the I Ching or the Daily Horoscope.
The nests were all empty. The birds had flown. Who wants to live alone in a jack pine crow’s nest hotel in the Land of his Fathers where nobody knows him, where he doesn’t speak the language, and where he now feels ill at ease? The last time I visited the UK, I sat on the English side of the Severn Bridge, drinking a cup of tea, but I couldn’t cross that bridge, and I couldn’t stay in a htoel, in the Land of my birth, where I no longer knew anyone.
Not that Wales was ever the Land of my Fathers, for my father was born in England, and my grandfather in Ireland. The Land of my Mother, perhaps, for she was actually born there. But the Land of my Mother never appears in any national anthem, and Mother is always singular while apparently a man can have more than one father, depending I suppose on the rub of the green.