Thursday, January 11, 2007


My father once believed in the mysterious alchemy of his purehearted blood. That by tracing his lines in this American clay back to the rocky soil of his ancestral homeland, he could rise above the scattered facts of who he was: a black-haired, black-eyed runt of a boy living on top of his father's tavern with its crumbling limestone walls and beveled-glass doorknobs, each one holding rainbows when morning fell through the drapes just right. He wore his Irish name like a crest, helped mop the linoleum floors and run a damp cloth over the sticky mahogany bar-top--just a flight of stairs down from his bedroom.

I imagine him at night, a boy awake in his bed--listening to the clinking glasses and boisterous men downstairs...his own proud Irish father standing tall and slinging beers. When my grandfather died, I was a black-haired, black-eyed runt of a girl of three years old and the bar became my father's...his inherited career, his lifestyle, his fate.

This, in and of itself, is a bit of a cliche--my American-born father filled with history and looking to his exiled ancestry as a dream, much in the way his cliched kin did, looking to the future and emigrating to America. The result is a feeling of being between two worlds--of somehow severed roots. The other Irish-American cliches--bullshitter, fighter, and drinker...he has been them all as if it was inherited with the name. Now, he has shed these as well--this, where the mystery comes in for me--this might be the magic.

A dozen years ago, before he was well and before I was of legal drinking age, we went to a bar to have lunch. It was the first contact we'd had in eight months and halfway into it, he offered me a silver claddagh ring--a man's ring, MADE IN IRELAND--that he had found down in the bar's cellar, ancient and blackened with years of abandonment. He cleaned it up, he told me, but it didn't fit him...on a whim, he tucked it in his pocket as he headed out to meet me--thinking I might want it. I slid it on my middle finger--heart pointing out, of course, I was still single. This almost-cliched Irish symbol became mine then as well. I had a sudden hope that maybe this find would mean something for my father and I. When I wear it now--the heart always faces in, I am taken...when I wear it now, I always think of him and his trembling gift to a prodigal daughter. I read this poem about cliche and symbol and thought of him too:

Wedding Ring
by Lynne McMahon

Common all over Ireland, unknown to me,
(tell me again what is this thing?)
it's a claddagh, a sweetheart ring,
silver hands clasping a rounded heart,
an apple, I'd mistakenly thought,
topped by a crown.
I still think of it as my regnant pomme
because it's French, and wrong,
and invented etymologies pass the time
those days you're gone.
Irish cliches, like certain songs,
wring from me
a momentary recognition that trash
sent bowling down the street
by sudden wind, or showery smoke trees
whipsawing across the path
their fine debris, means home to me,
and however long
estranged we've been, or silvered over
by borrowed themes,
these homely things make meaning for us.
I feel it just as much as you--
that near-empty diner in Sligo
where you found the ring
wedged in the cushioned booth,
rejected, perhaps, or lost,
hidden while the lover nervously rehearsed
his lines, then abruptly interrupted,
who knows how, and now distraught,
had no more thought for such
sentiment as this. I never take it off.

Time passes and I understand that cliches exist because there is a deep seed of truth buried the ones in the distant Celtic dirt I've never set foot on--and this homeland where Spring finds me planting Bells of Ireland in jagged green-veined rows along the sun-drenched fence--waiting for the blooms yet to be.


Anonymous acumamakiki said...

oh my. this brought tears to my eyes and a heaviness of heart rests as i think about family and parents, especially those that aren't always present. thank you for this delia. xo

12:04 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

It's true there's something about the Irish that we can't quite shake free of, a thing that nags and entrances. As first generation Irish I've always had the feeling of living between worlds, a foot in each, not really fitting into either. The claddagh is a symbol that I love and also think of as cliche, like potatoes and sad songs. I don't want to like them, but can't help myself, sometimes just letting myself be in the moment with my ancestry.
You've written so many truths here - beautifully.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Becoming Amethyst said...

I hate to tell you that you suck at cliche Delia - this was still writing gold to me, glimmered and shimmering all over :-)

x x x x x

12:51 PM  
Blogger pepektheassassin said...

This is such fantastic writing--both the prose and the poetry! I really loved reading it--you should write a book!

1:59 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

You write so beautifully and that poem fit with your story. I loved this photo too.

2:00 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

This is such a beautiful post, Delia. Gorgeous writing and wonderful poem. And I too have a Claddaugh ring, reminiscent of my family's Irish ancestry. I think people who travel; who are aware of their ancestry and its stories are restless and will always seek to know more.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Janet said...

What a beautiful story, not only about your Dad but about your history.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous AscenderRisesAbove said...

an amazing story; quite sad; a wonderful image.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Arty Lady's blog said...

Just beautiful!

4:29 PM  
Blogger melba said...

You tied this all together like the perfect gift...
presented to your readers with vintage paper, ribbon, and bow in a favorite hue.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Star said...

What a touching story. Sometimes those little, unexpected things mean so much more than the grand gesture.

5:54 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

wow. this did bring the glimmer of tears to my eyes as well, thank you for sharing such a rich beautiful story and sharing such a lovely poem.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous swampgrrl said...

it's just like the irish to weave a tale that begins rough and ends with tears. i should know ... my last name's clancy...

i love this photograph of the ring.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

OK, Delia, you really got me with this one.
When my grandmother gave me my golden Claddagh ring I must have been about 9. She explained the whole story about wearing it in and wearing it out.
She said that the two hands that hold the heart can be your own two hands or each one of a loving couple's hands. She told me that the hands cup the love between them to protect it and when the love is ready it flows out through the crown, which enriches it.
If worn outwards, she said, the love flows out into the heart of your lover. If worn inwards, the love flows too, but just back into your own heart.
I don't wear mine any more as it was a tiny child's ring and no longer fits but I treasure it amongst my most special possessions.
When I left Ireland, I brought it with me and when I returned, 13 years later, it was with me.
I love that yours was old and tarnished when your father found it. That it holds this mystery in its heart and that you wear it -carry it- with you always.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous krista said...

wow, I loved reading that. my son's name is irish, (there his dads side of the family has a strong irish catholic background) and the lure of ireland has always been strong for me.

I love your photo. How your hand it on the little picture of the typewriter. Love that.

I love how you tied in poetry thursday and the word find...

Very clever you are indeed.

AND I agree with bb. You suck at cliche! Haha. Maybe you aren't capable of being mediocre and cliche.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

Lovely post, I enjoyed reading this. I've always liked the scladdagh eing and its symbolism - a lot of people wear then in Scotland too.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

There's absolutely nothing cliche about this beautiful piece of writing.
I feel grateful to have wandered here this morning to read it.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous holli said...

Your story was so beautiful - I didn't see a dab of cliche in it. What I found was a picture, that drew me into a story I had absolutely no time to read - but sat glued for the entire thing.

Marvelous. The story and the ring. And the fact your father just found it - I love found treasures. It must mean so much to you. It's beautiful.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Oh boy, Delia. You move me with this story. I love the way you write, and I love reading more about you and your family.

I have so many thoughts and feelings in my mind about family roots and history. We are so a part of it, even when we try to run from it, it is in us! I think part of my families pain comes from not knowing our history story. When my grandmother was orphaned, we were orphaned in truth. But then, sometimes we become a part of our heritage without even realizing it...We inherit the bars, the scars, the truths and lies.

Thank you for sharing yourself here in blogworld, D. I am so happy to read your writing.


2:51 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Wonderful ring, wonderful story, wonderful poem.

But I really have to ask one question. Did your father look like Alanis Morrisette's father? (Just teasing!)

4:36 PM  
Blogger [a} said...

Divine, a post full of truths...

Pieces of the heritage we can never leave behind.

6:13 PM  
Blogger brittany said...

wow. I loved this. I want to hear more about your father and the relationship you share.


9:52 AM  
Blogger Deb R said...

This is a beautiful post, Delia! And yes, cliches become so because they speak to so many people and are repeated so often, yes? I love the photo.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Norma said...

A wonderful story and poem.

My Poetry Thursday uses a a dialect style, then I add my own at the end.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

I had to read that through twice it was so well written and filled with beauty. Thank you!

11:58 AM  
Blogger twilightspider said...

I am late in reading but just wanted to tell you how beautiful I thought this was. You express yourself with such eloquence that I just can't wait to come back for more.

12:43 PM  

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