Politics and Reading



"It is by glorious action that a man comes by honour in any people." - Beowulf

It may be debated whether this saga is of Norse origin.

I. Silence

No storyteller in this family of mutes. Bob, Aiden, Joe: they used to sit silently and have a drink, looking out at the sea, their faces reflecting that great body's mood, calm or strained. Little need of saying what all knew. Not much chance for my father, Aiden's son, to learn where he came from among those wise and too quiet men. When he regrets it, Dad puts the blame elsewhere: "Sure, what do a young fellow care for history?" A scatter detail gets into your head the way a bit of water comes over the gunnel when the sea is loppy.

After Aiden died, I scanned his bookshelf for live ones. Spent Friday evenings there in the kitchen, where his big black reading glasses were still propped up in the window sill. Couldn't get a bit of free time to sit, read, soak up the history, sweat out something true, fill my blank pages. The crowd would see the light on down the lane. They were drawn to it like flies.

Aunt Mamie came once to chat about what was, and we ended up talking about what used to be. She looked too hopeful when she asked me: "That Internet, you know, people doing up their family trees, and that . . . Do you think we might find out a few things?"

II. L'anse aux meadows

We are descended from Erik
Only via Dublin. If indeed
A band of Vikings
Finding no good port to ransack
Berrypicked these rolling green meadows,
Their guts did not long withstand
The sour fruits of Vinland.

III. Masterless

Three English brothers drank
Too much from Greenspond
And, driven by shame or starvation,
Went off to find others like themselves.
They would cut along by the breakers
On the Irish shore.

One Scyld Shefing was given a home
By Battcocks in Brigus who had
No strong lad to cut wood
Or carry junks from shed to stove.

Battcocks left their land to him,
And thus completed the adoption:
They became his.
The Hawkins house was founded.

IV. The Converted

Said he was Catholic,
And found himself a woman.

Thereafter, everything changed,
And yet found ways of being the same.

* * *

"Stephen - the way you're leaning there against the stove . . . reminds me of Phonse, and your father."

Mamie says Good Night and
Thanks for the Tea.
I need a walk in the meadow,
But words come to me.
I take some rum and start to sweat.

V. Heorot

"Though we are elbow to elbow, room enough only to reach forward and tug away at the wings of wild birds, we celebrate no glorious battles. The love of man for food is too gruesome unless cradled in overcrowded mead-halls, animated by jealous accounts of recent triumph. . ."

I am unable to reread what I have written,
Sick to my stomach,
Afraid there is nothing there.

But the woods' jacket
Drying by the fire
And suspended by a century-old nail,
Is his.