Friday, April 28, 2006

A History of Irish Dreams


In that moment when I have woken up – still in the most dark hours - but am still not confident of being truly conscious, sounds come to me, drifting on a breeze of memory, floating past my eyes, and just touching my ear-drums like the gentlest whisper of an exhausted lover. They might be a very light slop of the wind and moon pushing the river against the quays, the rhythms muffled and shaken by their paths along the stone streets and alleys to a bedroom window from decades long lost. They might be a hard rumble of APC tires pounding along pavement, tinged with the high-pitched notes of barbed wire vibrating on an e-chord. They might be the deep breaths of a vanished lover, a siren’s high-low echoing from far away but coming closer, the fall of a never forgotten early May rainstorm, a sound we all know must have been a gunshot, or of the door closing as my father came home, or of my mother’s feet pacing from kitchen to front window in fear.

And then I am awake, and the ceiling is above me, and the light of the always on television provides the room with a dangerous glow. I will get out of bed. I will stare out the window at the emptiness of the street below. I will go downstairs. I will consider pouring a beer down my throat. I will even open the refrigerator, and hold the bottle in my hand. I will consider just getting up. Making coffee. Sitting down and being productive again in these early hours, and writing. Sometimes I will even do one or the other of those. But usually not. Usually I will not make coffee. Usually I will put the beer back. Usually I will go back upstairs and climb back under the quilt and let my head fall into the pillow. Usually I will fall back asleep. Sometimes this will all happen two or three times in a night.

The field up at St. Peter’s was not much of a field when I was a kid. What’s that old Father Ted joke? “It’s not really a field, just a place with fewer stones”? Really it is not much of a field now. But it is what we had, and so we played there. Hours upon hours, all ages mixed together mostly, sometimes twenty or more boys on a team. It did not matter. You did not touch the ball much, unless you were both older and very, very good. And tougher too – but that was always understood. When I got older and close to very good I did to get to touch the ball often, although it was, most assuredly, nothing equal to the brilliant George Best moves I had dreamt as a boy. But by then the games happened much less often. Mothers kept the younger ones hidden inside believing that was how they could be protected. And the best had disappeared behind ski masks or into internment. And then we could not really even go to the Brandywell anymore, and Geordie went to play for some team in Los Angeles and then, just fell into drink. We all do, do we not? And there was not enough hope around us to build new dreams. So it is those original fantasies that still creep along my vision’s perimeter when I pass a field of boys kicking the football around.

When I think of that one weekend, and I think of it often, I call it the “Camelot” weekend, though I hope not out loud. There are dreams that need to held, to be yours alone. Then they can be much freer, and I think maybe safer too. During that season when, despite the calendar, the stones of the city had turned from warm and protective to cold, gray, and unforgiving, we ran. It was not easy. Movement was simply not easy then. We had silently slid from our bedrooms, snaked around those unbreachable city walls staying out of the glare of Army and RUC lights. We had run and hid, and run and hid, like the camp escapees we really were. Running across the Craigovan Bridge – was it two or three in the morning? – we had lain flat on the pavement when we saw headlights coming from either direction. We knew we had to be across and through the Protestant neighborhoods and out of the city before light came, and light came quickly in these northern latitudes in early summer. It took a whole other day and night to get to the sea, to the beach, and we feel asleep curled into each other behind the dune at the strand at Portstewart. For three days while parents cried and the Provos searched because back then you couldn’t ever have called the police and if you had they couldn’t have crossed into the NoGo zone anyway, we lay on the sand and splashed in the cold salt water and ran into the town to find bread and cheese, and we made love like teens do, badly and quickly but often, and with great excitement, and we smelled of the sea and sweat and each other. Until local kids found us, and I beat one of them up, and the RUC grabbed us and drove us back to the barricades, calling her a “little pope-girl slut” and threatening to cut my balls off. And all parts still come to me on certain nights, though not together, and the beach might be a different beach, and the bridge a different bridge, but the smells never change.

Coming to the kitchen door, yes, coming in from the back on an autumn day when the wind rose out of the north, coming straight down from the Faroes and Iceland and the pole and even if the sun had visible it would have stopped being able to really warm me weeks ago, the thick wool sweater, the knits of my ancestors, covered with the water drops that filled the air, and my ears and face red and stinging and I would fall into the corner by the stove, the peat fire filling this room with its phrases and legends and ma in the kitchen, the bangers sizzling in the pan, the thick sense of the mash reaching through my nostrils and into my brain and, yes, I would fall asleep there until the scream to come to the table. The warmest moment I can summon from my past.

The places that come unsummoned are the places where the bodies lie. They never change, though the backgrounds do, and the weather, and even the faces, and who I am and what role I play in each particular film clip running during that specific REM episode. There are too many bodies. And whether they died for this reason or that, for the cause or not, they have all died of the same thing. This island is cluttered with the lost ghosts we sing to as if they are heroes. They get their revenge on us by staying close.

On those nights when I am desperate for respite I pour enough pints into my brain and when my head hits the pillow I call to the thick rains that would fall and wash everything from the ancient ways of the city. That would chase those fighting inside or at least out of sight, and I in my hiding place under the rafters, could let the world be drowned out by the drumming of God's water on my family's roof. If I am lucky, it will do it still. I will sleep til dawn and arise to a very vicious, very welcome, headache.

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copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Heya. I'm really glad to read you again.

Anonymous said...

Har. I'm anonymous. I should have mentioned that I'm HomerTheBrave. :-)

narrator said...

Alright! good to hear from you Homer. Slowly, slowly, I'll get back to visiting...

Brenda said...

No-one does interior dialogue quite like you, and I always feel a delerious sense of entering memories, events, an impossibly innocent world-view, along with an emotional tenor that holds tensions of violence and love and rebellion and a million other things...

Nothing much happens here, and yet a whole world of memory unfolds, its atrocities and nightmares, and lays over the present like a pallor of sleeplessness.

You write stories of survival.

I've missed them.