Friday, February 20, 2015

The Annotated Stone of Loneliness


So Janis Ian is up for an Audio for the audiobook of Stars, the anthology edited by her and Mike Resnick.  You could search forever in the paper book for my story and never find it.  But they included "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again," which was inspired by Janis' song "Mary's Eyes," as an extra, a special treat for those who buy the audiobook.

Wednesday, I talked a little about the story and told where you can find the song that Janis wrote for it.  Today it occurred to me that it might be helpful is I provided a light annotation of it.

In general, everything I say about Ireland is true, unless it's something that has yet to happen, in which case it's fiction.  There can't be many readers who will have trouble telling one from the other.  But a few entries are personal and there's no way you could possible know that.  So, presented below are those elements that make this as close to an autobiographical story as I've ever written.


... my great-great-grandfather saw Gerry Adams strolling down O’Connell Street on Easter morning of ’96, the eightieth anniversary of that event, returning from a political rally with a single bodyguard to one side of him and a local politico to the other. 
All true.  That is exactly where and when and what happened to me.  Making me the protagonist's ancestor.  The bodyguard, incidentally, was huge.  His shoulders were so wide they made his head look small.

...I can see his face, liquid and wavy as if glimpsed through candle flames, as he lay dying under a great feather comforter in his New York City railroad flat, his smile weak and his hair forming a halo around him as white as a dandelion waiting for the wind to purse its lips and blow.

That was my grandfather, Michael O'Brien.  He died when I was -- what? -- three years old, I think.  I can see him clearly even now, smiling lovingly at me as I played on my little plastic guitar for him.

The holy well is one such antiquity, though it is only a round hole, perhaps a foot across, filled with water and bright green algae.  The altar over it is of recent construction, built by unknown hands from the long slender stones formed by the natural weathering of the limestone between the grykes, which makes the local stone walls so distinctive and the walking so treacherous. 

It wasn't easy to find, but Marianne and I had a geodetic survey map, and we tromped over the rocks until we all but stumbled across it it. Later that day, we struck up a conversation with a friendly waiter.  The man was a talker.  But when we mentioned the holy well, he clammed right up.

We met in the Fiddler’s Elbow, a pub in that part of the West which the Bord Failte calls Yeats Country. 

A lovely place.  We shared a pint with a dairy farmer there.  When I said that Ireland was a very beautiful country, he said, "But it can be a very dirrty country, too."  With a trill in the r.  The peat fire, however, comes from a pub in Dublin, as does the back room where the concert was held.

“This one’s for the American,” she’d said.
But how had she known?

This happened to a friend of mine.  She was in the audience and the singer said, "This one's for the American in the front row."  So she stayed after to ask how he knew.  "You have American teeth," he said.

“Looking for your roots, then, are ye?”

This is a question all visitors to Ireland must endure.  Apparently the Irish can't imagine any other reason for coming to see their country.

...and the ladies of Noraid goose-stepping down the street on Saint Patrick’s Day in short black skirts

True.  Terrifying.

“It’s not the wee folk you have to worry about.  It’s the boys.”

In Ireland, "the boys" is or was a euphemism for the IRA.  Which is why a friend who was putting up the members of an Irish folk group in her house for a few weeks was always careful to refer to them as "the lads."

The Stone of Loneliness was a fallen menhir or standing stone, something not at all uncommon throughout the British Isles.  They’d been reared by unknown people for reasons still not understood in Megalithic times, sometimes arranged in circles, and other times as solitary monuments.  There were faded cup-and-ring lines carved into what had been the stone’s upper end.  And it was broad enough that a grown man could lie  down on it. 

 On a beautiful, bright day on our first visit to Ireland in 1982, Marianne and I found the Stone of Loneliness, so called because it was supposed to be a cure for heartbreak.  People about the leave Ireland forever would sleep on it the night before departure.  I lay down on it and I felt all the loneliness in the world flood into my body.

a nondescript cinder-block building

I swiped this bar from my mother.  She took a tour of Ireland, before which she asked if there was anything I wanted her to bring back.  "If you run across a bottle of Knappogue Castle," (at that time a rare whiskey) I said, "I'd like that."

Well, my mother asked the tour but driver and he hadn't heard of it either.  But "I think I know what he meant," he said, and drove to a very seedy bar and after warning his charges not to leave the bus, went in.  He came back with a Fresca bottle filled with illegal poteen.

When she got home, my mother told me this story, showed me the Fresca bottle, and put it back in her own liquor cabinet.

...only Ireland and my family could make me cry.  

It's God's own truth.


1 comment:

Kevin Swanwick said...

Funny, Kathy and I met Gerry Adams in July, 1997 right after the siege at Drumcree had happened ( a forced Orange March through a Catholic neighborhood in Portadown). Post-parade, there was rioting and car burning going on in Portadown, Derry, Belfast and Lurgan and Adams stood at a press conference trying to explain to SKY News, BBC and The Times that the British Government were to blame for the rioting; them having led people to believe that the march would not go through, unless and until the Northern Ireland Minister visited Drumcree to announce it to residents, herself. The visit never happened, but the march did, starting with a military occupation in the middle of the night in Drumcree, cordoning the place off. We were there, staying with the Spence family, just off of Drumcree Road, a scary site.

After the press conference two days later (at Conway Mills, Falls Road), Adams walked outside with the same bodyguard (a white version of "The Refrigerator" Perry, and stopped outside the entrance. We chatted for a few moments, but I noticed he was looking down the street mostly and not at me, except for periodic glances of acknowledgement. I soon realized that what he was doing was watching the traffic light at the Falls Road/Clonard intersection, waiting for a green. He lived under death threat and they were timing the light so that they wouldn't have to wait. When the light was turning green, he was in the car and gone....