A Short Dalliance with Green Beer and Tom Stoppard’s Monkey
By Kate Sullivan A two-block walk from the parade, around the corner from the pub, brings me to another pub with more green plastic hats, too many friends holding up other friends, holding up a man wearing a top hat who lisps. He keeps saying, “Thay, thiss is justh grand, justh grand.” Everyone in the pub as if on cue, each time he ends with “justh grand,” shouts “Happy Paddy’s Day” to the pub, and by extension, the world.
I wedge myself between two men with bronze, curly red hair. They both lean in, stopping me. Breathing on me. It is the sound of their breathing, the look of the nostrils, and the freckles. Memories of sod, of farmers, of potato pudding. I have no memories like that, but I reach for them. I am a city dweller. I have ancestors who, as they tell me often, are from the ol’ sod.
It makes me think the Irish sod, the old musty sod, must have legendary periods and decades, the kind that archeologists seek and are able to carbon date to prove things. I wonder, as I stand wedged between these lively, warm Irishmen, if Irish sod ripples with the history of the Renaissance, if I could find a long stratum and vein of illumination. Bands of Irish sod, sod that holds treasures of books, of antiquity. Relics of a time, during the famine. I want, finally, an archeological revelation to prove that in a country enduring bad crops and raked-up farms, that perhaps, just perhaps, one single bright Irish potato farmer peered out to the ocean to say, “Tirrah, laddy, we don’t all have to get in the boat and go from Ireland to the paved golden streets of America, cuz’ laddies, there might just be a few fish in this sea.”
I seek that relic. A relic of a fish net or a hook, a redemptive artifact that would prove to me that my ancestors could feed themselves. Fish. Sea. Good fish. Good sea. No need to flee, as lemmings, into the sea and on big boats to America.
While I stand wedged between, o, let’s call them Mr. Freckles and Mr. Monkey, I think of my Irish father, yes, a drinker he was and it killed him, and I recall the whims and fancies that he had during his life. I toast his sad memory. I wink at Mr. Freckles and turn to wink at Mr. Monkey, who resembles a gifted tambourine player. He has music in him, I can see that.
Would an Irish poet fish, that is my eternal question.
For more than twenty years, I have been able to leave that question unanswered but it nags at me. Why would an island, surrounded by fish and the sea, not nourish people who ate a potato, some celery, a bit of beef, and stock. Was it too much of a stretch. Too far of a walk, to go from a hillside, one with more colors of green, they say, than there are colors of green, down to the sea. Is it that the Irish are anti-blue; I ask this in a fully rhetorical mood.
While I stand wedged between these two stalwart men, who by now are letting me sip from their beer, tipping their frosted mugs to my face, my face, which looks quite distantly Irish, melted Irish, not the true look of the Celtic, the Viking or the Black. As beer dribbles down my chin and onto my red blouse, I begin to assimilate into the crowd, to listen to the man with the lisp and cheer him on, to give boldly out with a hoot and a grand St. Paddy’s Day shout. He lisps into the ear of a stray, entreating a pub’s waitress, challenging her to agree that of all the ancient kings of Ireland, Cormac was dearest held high and most courageous. He whispers to her that even the chroniclers would not speak ill of Cormac’s father, Art, who was the son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, and was known as Art the Lonely. When he says lonely, he briefly loses his lisp and a wide grin replaces it.
The faces of my father mill about in the pub, the temperate insinuation of many bodies moving as one, the hint of a time when community and a cordial and familial time meant more than the latest widget or ring tone. I look around to see a legacy that I have fought against, railed against, denied, and denounced. I tell people I am French Canadian.
A man hands me a mug, frosted, cold, filled with a color that no respectable blade of grass would own up to, and I drink slowly. I am listening to each sound, each allusion of a lilt that echoes up through the pub. Mr. Monkey gently leans over and looking too much like Tom Stoppard, kisses me on my cheek.
It might be the beer, but as I am released by the movement of the crowd to go thicker into the center of the milling, I look at a wood beam in the ceiling, I look at photos of a land where fancies begin, where fish swim close to the shore. I look at a blinking Guinness sign and after taking another long sip of beer, I forgive the Irish. By Gawd, and damnation.
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