We took hundreds of pictures during our trip to Ireland, but I didn’t notice that the camera settings were wrong for the first few days, and the pictures I took in Glendalough disappoint me deeply in their low quality. This is perhaps the most first-world problem I’ve ever admitted to having in this space— my photos from a vacation some people dream about taking all their lives are too low-res— but there you have it.
Maybe it’s to be expected. The lush green that sweeps up the Wicklow Mountains, carpeting ancient ridges and tangling over itself, and the earthen tones of the rock and the trunks of the trees— how can any camera adequately capture the darkness of the embrace the woods offer, the softness of the greenery, the mystery of the tangle? Is it only words, in the end, that offer the depth of vision I want?
Somewhere along what is now called the Wild Atlantic Way, between Galway and Westport, my ancestors Ellan Moran and Ulick Walsh were born and later lit out for America. Like so many millions of others who have left their homes and crossed seas and oceans in search of different lives, they never returned to the shallow, rocky shores of the west of Ireland, to the shadow of Croagh Patrick rising through the fog over Clew Bay. So at first, standing on the shore of that bay with that same mountain rising behind me, felt like closing a historical and genealogical loop in a way I’d never experienced before. They left, and I, their descendant, college-educated and then some, with enough time and disposable income to be overseas, stood where they might have stood.
When we were diverted in the pouring rain on our way to County Mayo, exactly halfway through our road trip around Ireland, we wound up on a twisting, narrow, and nameless road through a boggy stretch of Connemara. I remembered our trip the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin a few days before, where we saw the bog bodies— human remains found, eerily intact after hundreds and hundreds of years, in Ireland’s many peat bogs. One of them, known as Old Croghan Man, is believed to have been over six feet tall and was found with a braided leather armband around his left bicep, which, along with his manicured hands and his varied diet, suggest a person of high status. Cuts to his body, including the removal of his nipples, may evince a ritualized, tortured rejection of Old Croghan Man’s kingship, as suckling the king’s nipples was a sign of submission. The old kings were symbolically wedded to goddesses of the land and harvest; famines were signs of displeasure with the kings’ leadership, and the kings were therefore murdered, their bodies buried in the bogs that would later fuel the fires needed to cook the fruits of later harvests and keep the people warm, the same bogs that also hid gold and illuminated manuscripts, animal bones and broken pots. I thought of all this as I ate Frosted Shreddies, bought from a Tesco outside Wicklow on the other side of the country, straight from the box in the passenger’s seat of the car, as we listened to Van Morrison. I tugged on my polka dot raincoat to leave the car and take pictures of the landscape both lush with green and desolate with cloud and exposed turf.
Heaven? I’m in heaven?
—Prior Walter in Act V of Angels in America: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
We sang Vaughan Williams’s “O how amiable” surrounded by dozens of panels of the AIDS Quilt, we noshed on Keen’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, we contemplated Paul’s cryptic “I heard it from a cousin who told his friend” commentary on “the third heaven,” whatever that is—that is to say, I was back at church for the first time in a month, my longest stretch without church proper in years, and it was as good and jarring of a homecoming as I could have wanted.
I had actually been in the courts of the Lord already the previous evening for Quilt: A Musical Celebration, Judsonite Mark Perry’s benefit show for the Callen-Lorde Health Center and Frontline AIDS. Mark had arranged for a sizable showing of the quilt itself, which I’d never seen in person. I texted a picture of Freddie Mercury’s panel to MaryBeth; I shuddered with a sort of bilious grief at Roy Cohn’s, emblazoned with the legend “BULLY-COWARD-VICTIM.” But the panel I won’t be able to forget is the very first one that was made, Marvin Feldman’s, by Cleve Jones, who conceived the quilt and the NAMES Project. In the panel, Johnson is slight and serious, with round glasses and a moustache; he is surrounded by a Keith Haring-esque corona of bold dashed gray lines; and he holds a small gray tabby cat.
I didn’t intend to write a sequel to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” I really just wanted to write a story that pivoted around this ridiculous delay I faced on the train the other day. But Aidan and Swann showed up for me again, so, here you go.
R Forest Hills-71 Av 12 minutes
It’s the middle of rush hour, and I need to be at school in less than an hour for the chemistry Regents, which I will probably fail. I drag myself to the far end of the platform so I’m in the right car when I get to the stop near school.
Aidan said he’s not going to take it. He said this last night— his parents weren’t home, and I was testing the limits of my curfew the same way I tested my alarms this morning, which is to say pretty fucking stupidly in both cases— “I’d probably just bomb it,” he chuckled, reaching for another handful of Skittles from the bowl on the coffeetable in front of their ginormous sofa. “Fuck it. It’s not like you really need it, either.”
“It’s just good to have options,” I’d replied, lamely, as he tossed the Skittles in his mouth and held back one of the green ones, my favorite, and slipped it between my lips. “I should be studying,” I added, even more lamely, after I chewed it and swallowed it, soft even just from that moment or two in his hand.
Hi friends! I went on a slightly-longer-than-planned hiatus before, during, and after my trip to Ireland (which I’m still writing about—coming soon!), but I’m getting back on track. It’s Poetry Wednesday, so please do enjoy “In This Age.”