Birth at the Ruins || Mary Buchinger

We’re walking on a path through Ingapirca—
Cañari ruins crowned by Inca remnants—when we notice
below, on a sweeping green plain, a llama giving birth.

The birth, like most, was improbable and awkward—
a wet messy success producing a knobby-kneed cria
pumping down hard on the earth to find its legs.

My brothers, visiting from the States, are new
to this part of the world where I lived and worked.
I brought them here to see the colossal stone blocks

cut to join so closely a single piece paper couldn’t slip
between—precise elliptical walls positioned just so
to catch the solstice. Our guide explains all this

as clouds suddenly swallow the sun and we pull
our scarves tighter. This caprice of the gods, he says,
drew ancient peoples to this place close to the heavens

—the better to study and appease. We stop
to eat sandwiches and one brother observes,
We’re all over thirty now, right. But no, not me.

Not yet. Their baby sister, I look away, towards
the mewing cria. Will I have to watch everyone die?
The Cañari and Inca had their ways of keeping track.

A stone tablet sits at the entrance of this poorly-kept ruin,
twenty-eight indentations of various depths in its surface
that fill with rainwater, something about the reflection

of the constellations to keep time—no one really knows.
We climb into the back of a pickup truck and twirl down
the mountain; our driver, in a hurry to get home, spins out

at every hairpin turn. I stand with my brothers whom I love,
arms stretched grabbing hold of the stone-pocked roof,
I look straight ahead, face into the wind.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

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Finding Gold on the Emerald Isle || Benjamin Christensen

“So,” Andy says, lowering his pint of Heineken. “Where ya from then?”

The Brazen Head is loud. It’s not American-college-bar-loud, where drunken sorority chicks whoo after having a shot of tequila, but loud with the murmur of conversation. Glasses clang and people laugh. The bar is rustic and the walls are plastered with pictures and framed articles. The area we’re sitting in is small and filled with people, though it doesn’t feel the least bit cramped. It’s the oldest pub in Dublin, and we found it by simply wandering around.

“The States,” I say. And then to add a notable area, “Just outside of Boston.”

If we’re going for precision, I’m from Connecticut. I never say it with any conviction. Truth be told, if I’m in a city where no one knows my name, sometimes I’m from New York, Wisconsin, or maybe even Denver. Restlessness is something I’ve learned to deal with. While I know I’m far from alone in my desire to be someplace other than where I currently am, I don’t know how common it is to not really feel like you’re from anywhere.

“Ah,” Andy says. “Cheers then!”

***

Depending on what living relative you ask and what census record you attempt to interpret, I am either third or fourth generation Irish. Regardless of the specifics, part of me hails from Ireland, and I’ve wanted to travel there since I was just a kid. However, nine years ago when I was supposed to board a plane for Dublin, I crashed my car head-on, forfeiting the money I had saved for my self-awarded high-school graduation present in favor of a down payment on a new ride. For the foreseeable future, Ireland took a backseat.

Nearly a decade was far into the foreseeable future. Too long. But it wasn’t spent being complacent in New England. Florida occurred on several occasions. Peru and a hike into the Andes to touch Machu Picchu’s sacred stones happened. I’ve traveled to Colorado twice, been kissed by a wolf, but never made it to Dublin.

With a little shame (and a lot of reservation) I’m willing to admit that fear was the reason it took me so long to get here. I was afraid that if I went, I would never come back.

It’s a laughable reason to many, met with an eye roll and an, “Okay, but in reality, with bills and everything?” However, it could happen with little more than a thought. I get this look in my eye, or so my girlfriend, Eryka, says.

In regards to Ireland, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if walking through a cemetery and seeing my mother’s maiden name, or hiking along trails in the same place my great-great-great grandfather and his family lived, would make me feel at home enough to stay.

***

Situated on a street corner, about a block away from the River Lee in Cork City, is The Oliver Plunkett. Or, as its second floor is known as, The Frisky Irish Whiskey Bar. It’s a place where everyone sings when the Irish rugby team takes the field or cheers and applauds when Wales scores against Italy.

We find this place not by an internet search or travel suggestion, but by again randomly wandering into a bar (albeit a different bar) where we meet a group of people on holiday from England.

After a few pints and laughing about my poor ability to translate Gaelic, it is like we’ve known each other our entire lives. We take a few pictures together for either Facebook or a physical photo album, even though we had never seen them before and would in all likelihood never see them again. As we start to leave, they begin to rave about the Oliver Plunkett, its second-floor bar, and its smoke room.

“So, we’ll see you there, right?” one of the gents asks.

“Sounds good,” I say and we’re on the street following signs to the center of the city.

The bar is as cool as they described it. The downstairs dining area is packed and the hostess can’t get us a table, but seeing as neither of us is hungry we shrug, say thanks, and head upstairs.

When you think Irish pub, you’re imagining the Frisky Irish Whiskey Bar.

We grab two seats in front of the taps (thank the saints for draft Heineken at every bar) and order two drinks. Behind us, people cheer at a large projection screen. Italy scored against Wales in the Rugby Six Nations tournament. A woman dressed as a leprechaun starts chanting and people laugh with their glasses raised. No one, not the young women behind the bar, the guys sitting on adjacent stools staring at their phones, nor the people cheering and yelling at the screen, ask us where we’re from. In that bar, we are Irish and nothing else.

The game ends and we have a half-hour until the next one starts. The pub is getting busy because the game coming up is Ireland versus Scotland. I look at Eryka and say, “We have to stay.”

I’m not a sports guy. I can’t remember the last Super Bowl I’ve watched in its entirety, but you bet your ass I caught that entire match.

***

My grandfather on my mother’s side died in an accident long before I was born. I’ve only seen his face in pictures. As far as I know, there are only a few of those still around. A few days before we left I opened a card while sitting at my mother’s kitchen table and inside was one of those pictures.

She stopped cooking for a second and told me, “Your grandfather and your uncle were always playing jokes and doing ridiculous things. They called a taxi one time, loaded the trunk full of shopping bags and when the guy asked where to, they pointed across the street, a few buildings down.”

I laughed as she continued, “So here’s what I want you to do: I want you to leave this picture somewhere in Ireland.”

It took me a second before I looked at her and asked, “What?”

“I want you to leave this picture somewhere in Ireland. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the wall of some bar or in the Jameson distillery or wherever you think is right, but, because you’re the first of the boys to make it back home, I want you to pick a spot and leave this picture there.”

I held the corner of the picture between my thumb and forefinger and thought, There’s that word again.

***

“Do you know where you’re going to leave it?” Eryka asks.

I flick the photograph between my fingers and tuck it back inside my notebook.

“Nope.”

I had thought of Sheep’s Head Peninsula. We had earmarked it as a place to stop and do some hiking between Cork and Killarney, but we never made it. The weather was being too cooperative and I couldn’t see the point in spending a few extra hours in the car when I was sure there were other places closer to where we were.

One of those places? Killarney National Forest.

After parking, we walk around the Muckross House estate. Its manor that, along with the surrounding gardens, looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Lush plants and bushes line gravel walking paths and trees whose massive trunks are hugged tightly with green vines. Breaking away from the gardens, we follow signs for Torc Waterfall. Sealed in a plastic bag, the picture of my grandfather is tucked inside my pocket.

We don’t spend a lot of time at the falls; a group of people have stopped and are taking pictures. After a minute or two we press on, up three or four-dozen slabs of stone embedded as stairs in the hillside. Around a bend there’s an overlook, allowing an unobstructed view of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane. There’s no rain. Not even a cloud overhead. Just blue sky and sun. Eryka looks at me and I know she knows. After waiting for several people to pass, I trek off the trail for a couple dozen yards and find a spot to bury the photograph of my grandfather. I pat the ground and smile, pausing to take in the woods around me.

Eryka smiles when I get back to the trail, and we stay at the overlook for a few minutes more before continuing. We come to a bridge where a several mid-twenties are sitting with their dog. They ask me to take a picture and make sure to get the dog in there as well. He’s family too of course. I smile, thinking of my own animals waiting for me to come back.

Our next hike is in Liscannor, County Clare along a cliff side that anyone would recognize as the iconic picture of Ireland. Walking along that edge, the ocean air feels different than it does stateside. I don’t know if it’s the Cliffs of Moher themselves that give it the cooler, crisper feeling but whatever it is, I’m relishing it.

I stare out at the expanse of the Atlantic and think of how far we traveled in the matter of a short flight. Five or so hours, and we’re in a different world. I think of all the differences, both apparent and subtle. The countryside behind me is so much like the farmlands in Connecticut and yet it is so drastically different it’s almost indescribable. It took me almost a decade, but I am where I wanted to be. The trouble is, I still don’t feel at home.

I know that when I go back to the States and people ask me if I’d move to Ireland I will say yes because the truth is that I would. It is a gorgeous place with friendly people and a rich history. But, in the same respect, so is New England. As I’m sure Norway is as well. And Alaska. And New Zealand. The only way to be sure is to go to each of these places and find out. To walk the gravel paths and drive the roads laid out before us. Who knows, maybe when I get there and someone asks where I’m from, I’ll tell them Dublin.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

The Meadow || Mary Buchinger

Sunlight spirals out from a confusion
of tag elder crowding the edges of this narrow
expanse, a slow succession of species
in the landscape—changes, changes—
is this renewal?

In the felt heat of midday, dragonflies
swim light, splash in its waves
Sunk light begets, in the bed
of me, exact frequencies of the meadow

The entire meadow—grasses dipped
in gold—spins like a rolled-
open tunnel, my eyes sweep
its sides, fanning photonic fire

Behind me a small vernal pool
recedes in August death, a nerve
of babyskin tadpoles floats
tardily in the thick brew
suspended in half-wonder

Insects, innumerable, opulent

Parting joe-pye weed
I wade through, switchgrass
hoping against arrival, sun lacquers
my shoulders and freckling hands
heat festers down to decay
and my spidery self opens

          º

In the black pool, a soggy branch springs
when its sunning turtle clambers off—
spectacle of plated light!—new
mud beneath its hooked green
legs bubbles, bubbles, I

imagine against my skin—
skin, its thunderbolts of enzymes
separating physical selves, frogs,
turtles, me, what is felt

Do they too smell this dry
juniper I crush between fingers,
its thin, gymnastic branches
releasing the gin of the waxy blue
I sip its air to intuit
what is essence and what I
can do without, so chorded
so exacting my neediness
and hunger, nuclei buzzing all over

          º

I’m telling you the meadow is a metaphor
for dying, whereas for the light
the dragonfly itself is keeper

          º

The meadow opens its mouth of green
and I am drawn to its activity

My soul of contention calms
in this beauty and buzz

And yet, coursing, coursing between
seeing and knowing, between sought and held
a rill of uneasy infinitude

The meadow explains this truth
I rest on the stone bench to listen

          º

Mudhole at my back jumps to life
with a quantity of dying, troubled air
I invite inside, inhaling

Here, with a white surrender, light
is sentient, this light in the skin of the meadow
complicated by a thousand daily things

Each blade, singing

In these vibrations between meadow
and light, I plumb balance

          º

Phosphorescence, abundance, senescence

A slit in my universe and suddenness
sweeps in, dusk, and my surprise
is new again—another end

          º

I aim for union with meadow
and light, with its opening and closing, its lesson
will be absolute and consequential

Succession means pioneers
make way for what’s to come

The alders and aspen will win this meadow
ready it for the oaks and beeches
to follow. Stones will assemble with solemn
intent. The unbearable fervor of June
will have been the cost of August

Dragonfly, dragonfly, dragonfly

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.