In The Time of the Dead

Famine Moon 2

There was a time before clocks.

Not a time before time, of course.  There’s always been time, marked by events common to most of us foolish beasts cursed with self-referential sentience.  The sun rises, it is morning.  It sets, it’s evening.  There was the dark part of the day and light part of the day, the middling of both. Moon rises in his-her varying shades and patterns cycled the month for us, storms and heat and snow, falling and budding of leaf, pregnant vine and heavy branch, birthing of animals and melting of ice all told to us the time.

The time after clocks is ferocious, brutal, insistent.  At 2.30 pm I leave for work, and if I have left at 2.45pm I will not be there “on time.”  A friend to meet at noon, because if not-noon she cannot meet, a date to end by 11 lest he not ever catch his bus home to be in bed by midnight so to work by 9.

Astronomical events no longer trigger and compel and direct activity; ciphers do, numbers mis-representing themselves as important.

But I’ve slipped out of time.

..A Different, Inaccurate Map

11 December–12 December

It was much harder to leave the marshlands than I’d expected.  A short trip, a few days’ visit before heading off to Ireland–I’d known it’d be brief, quite temporary, but I hadn’t been prepared for how strongly the land there would call back to me.  Or, rather, how strongly I’d find myself listening.

Stronger than that, however, was being in such a warm, settled, kind hearth.

One day perhaps I’ll tell again the stories of my youth, the 13 year old ‘me’ with the developmentally-disabled schizophrenic single mother and the two younger sisters, us all on our own and I the only one with enough access to the world outside to figure out how rent might be paid, food might be found, and how we’d all managed to survive the even harsher life than we’d left in Appalachia.

That story’s for another time, really.  I’m sitting in an ancient stone building on the coast of Wales as a storm whips outside the windows of this hotel, sipping tea at a large wooden table near a massive castle and a dream-haunting rock.  It’s time for other stories, first

But this photo suffices for now, I’d suspect.  This is the three of us a few hours before I left upon a plane to Dublin.


Things turn out quite well.

One has to have a sense of time to travel, of course, particularly now in our grand time-regulated modern present.  A plane from Orlando to Dublin leaves at 8.05pm, the gates for it close at 7.45pm.  To arrive at 7.50pm is to not go to Dublin.

And that’s all “Eastern Standard Time,” of course.  Back in the Northland forests, the time is different.  In Dublin, the time is different.  Here in Wales I write at 1am, but you in the vast urban stretches of New York are not yet preparing for bed, and you in cities-on-the-bays of Northern California are just now noting the end of daylight.

The time of plane travel is particularly brutal, as are the places you meet those planes.   Ursula Le Guin has already described airports quite better than I ought try.  From Changing Planes, an absurdly fantastic little book:

“In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape route from hell.”

Vast complexes all regulated by time (and fear), areas you cannot go, things you cannot do, all so to get into long metal boxes full of others as miserable as you are, cramped into tiny and unpleasant seats where you are woken every 20 minutes by offers of soda or shopping opportunities.

And beyond the airports are the airplanes, where you are not only already engaging in body-stressing high-speed travel, you’re also transgressing time, passing the artificial markers humans have overlaid upon our geographies to arrive hours before you started, or many more hours later than you traveled.

And so it was as such I awoke as a plane landed in Dublin, the day already broken across unfamiliar skies as uncomfortable, dehydrated, constipated and irradiated people scrambled over each other to retrieve belongings from tiny cabinets above what we politely refer to as “seats” within our great modern accomplishment, all to wait another interminable length of time to exit the plane, retrieve more belongings, and shuffle, sore, through customs lines.

I should maybe here admit I do not like customs, or immigration, or body scanners and checkpoints.  I am always a little surprised when I am distractedly waved through Homeland Security, discovering each time to both my delight and disappointment I’ve not yet done anything important enough to be considered a risk to aviation.  I suspect they’re all quite aware that I’m quite cowed by the entire process and consider aviation more of a risk to my soul.

And though I get along quite well with most police folks, seem to pass by most of their notice and avoid their attention, I always tremble before the confessional box of Customs and Immigrations.

And security at Dublin?  It’s brutal, as my experience should show.

I stood, exhausted, sore, cramped and fogged before the great gate and handed over my passport.  The immigration official opened its crumpled and dog-eared pages and shook his head before turning his gaze towards me and saying, “Ye’ seem the nice sort, yeah? Easy-going an’ all that?”

“I think so?” I answered.  “I mean, I think I am?”

I stood there, suddenly overcome with self-doubt.  Am I really the nice sort?  I’m mostly nice, usually polite.  Sometimes not as nice as I could be.  Sometimes awfully brusque if I haven’t had my tea yet.

And easy going?  Fuck–sometimes I’m a bit of a humorless old man.  I never get other people’s sarcasm, often times get a bit stressed when I’m responsible for things and they’re not going quite right, I’m…

I looked back at the guy behind the visa window, wondering if he could sense all this.  This was certainly his plan–trigger an existential crisis in a potential terrorist until they confess all those times they’ve never been quite as easy-going about the world as they could be, how sometimes they’ve really not been very nice at all.

And then there’s another immigration enforcer, a burly, stern man standing next to him, and they’re talking, and I’m not looking forward to an Irish holding cell and a forced return to America where I’ll only get more of this sort of treatment, where I’ll definitely not be known as being “the nice sort” or even slightly “easy going.”

The two men staring at my passport shook their heads.  The first flipped through each wrinkled page while the other observed, his visage one of paternalistic disdain.

And finally they speak, words I’d been dreading.

“I wish I had an iron.”

“An iron?” I ask, utterly confused by this terrifying Kafka-esque turn.

Neither of them answer my question as they inexplicably return my passport.  “Have fun,” says the first, and I’m really confused.

“Is…is that all I need?”

He nodded, and I shuffled away, staring at my passport, noting finally that he’d been uncreasing the dog-ear edges of its pages for me.

And then I was out, out into Dublin or, more specifically, outside the airport in Dublin, smoking my first cigarette in 12 hours and wondering why the rest of the world isn’t so nice as Irish customs officials.

City of the Dead

12 December, 13 December

Evoke bwSlipping out of time while traveling is great for hearing things you don’t normally hear.  Out of the familiarity of the normal and habitual, senses which fall into disuse and atrophy re-awaken jarringly, as if grumpy and rather pissed they’ve been disturbed.

Suddenly alert for everything because you don’t quite know what you can ignore, every noise, every voice, every distant sound presents itself urgently, overwhelming the usual manner of sorting such sounds.

You’re deafened, and a bit blinded, and a bit numbed from so much.

Like the blind, you can rely on what you know of other things to make guesses regarding what’s in front of you.  Just as the feel of one door teaches you most of what you need to know about most doors, the distancing on one staircase gives you a framework to understand other stairs, some cities teach you the most important things about other cities like it.

A European city teaches quite a bit about other European cities.  Paris and Berlin are radically different, yet knowing one can guide you into knowing the other or another of its kind.  American cities, however, are useless for imparting any such knowledge about how to get around a European city, but the largest European ones make using the New York City subway system seem like child’s play.

Dublin, then, is like Paris, or Berlin, but with many more dead.  In Dublin the dead are roaming about unhindered and unguided– you hear them along with all the city sounds, all the traffic sounds and people sounds and dog barking sounds–all the living sounds and then the dead sounds.


Dublin is a city of the dead.

You know? I’m embarrassed a bit of how little Irish history I’d remembered, how little of the last 300 years of the place I’d recollected.  I can tell you what happened in Bretagne, or Wales, but Ireland?  I’d forgotten too much of it.

But then I began to remember, because it’s all in front of you, all the dead.  You pass by a field and ask your companion what’s there and he says the answer you’re trying not to listen to: the dead.  Lots of them, all buried together in a mass grave, the “Croppy Acre” of Republican rebels at the turn of the 19th century.  Signs directing you to tombs of fallen revolutionaries are everywhere.  But you don’t really need the signs, because they’re roaming the sea-tinged air as you walk through the streets, trying to get your attention

And trying to get my attention.

I remember when I didn’t listen to the dead, didn’t note their strange hollow pre-electric voices and whispers, heard best not in graveyards but in taverns, not best on Samhain but on Beltaine, not during the times where we go looking for them but in those hours and in those places where they come looking for us.

I don’t quite know what else to say about this.  I should probably conceal these words in poetic musings for those who don’t hear the dead, or don’t think such a thing is likely or even possible.  Poets have done this for centuries, speaking on the fallen with such metaphor anyone might merely encounter such recollections as mere muse-struck rantings.

I could say, perhaps, how the air seems haunted or fragmented echoes of their lives return or some other thing, and leave it at that.

But no.  Dublin is a city of the dead.  They’re fucking everywhere, gating through the very stones, lending a chthonic strength to an other, peculiar thing you note upon treading the streets of this city:

The city’s smeared with anarchist and revolutionary propaganda.

Government go

A few days before I arrived, there’d been a large anti-government rally around attempts to begin charging individuals for water use.  Because of years of government neglect of public infrastructure during the Neo-Liberal policies of the first decade this millennia, Dublin’s water distribution is failing.

In case you don’t remember or never heard, Ireland was called “the Celtic Tiger” because of its willingness to accept international investments without taxing the corporations who benefited from the government’s welcome.  Its economy suddenly appeared to be booming as more and more foreign companies set up there to take advantage of low corporate tax rates, while the government did what every other government’s done in such situations–stopped spending on infrastructure.

The perennial promise of jobs has tricked many a people into opening themselves to pillaging, just as sometimes the promise of a promotion or true love promises many into giving over their bodies to a ravaging, but of any people, the Irish have been ravaged and pillaged more than most.

Now private companies have begun to install water meters into homes in Dublin so the government may begin charging for usage, despite the fact that its citizens already pay for water through a water-tax.

Thousands of people gathered in defiance, blockading the entrances to neighborhoods where the meters were to be installed, and they were visited by a special delegation of people who’ve fought the same war in their own city–Detroit.  The Detroit Water Brigade was here, standing both in solidarity and alliance to the resistance against water privatization and government negligence of the most basic of things governments claim to provide their people.  What use is a government, really, if it does not ensure the water keeps running?

Those familiar with The Morrigan and the questions of sovereignty may already understand this matter, first brought to my attention by Judith O’Grady’s God-Speaking.  Rulers have always been expected to ensure the right-running of a society’s basic needs.  When the crops fail or enemies invade, the governed blame (rightly or wrongly) their rulers, as true in ancient Ireland or Greece as it is now in modern France or Canada.   When rulers fail to protect the people they rule, it is, even in modern society, seen as sort of message from the gods that the ruler is no longer fit to rule.  Presidents who preside over great economic suffering are voted out, Kings and even Dictators in such circumstances are deposed.

Here, then, in Dublin begins one of those crises.  The water system is failing, some communities must boil their water.  The government proposes to fix this not with the money they’ve already collected, but by collecting more money through private means.

And the city resists, and the dead resist with them.

One doesn’t need study too deeply to see what the dead have seen, how the people have always been fucked, be it by foreign powers or by their own governments.  The dead remember, and in Dublin, the dead do not stay still.

The dead have slipped out of time.

To be out of time is not to forget.

The past and the present are not so far apart, they are mere neighbors in the same country of memory, adjacent hillsides or mountains comprising a ridge or a range, trees next to each other becoming a grove or a forest.

The dead do not forget because they are in the place of all remembering, waiting only for the living to remember them.

Running To The Sea

14 December

I woke at 4am on Sunday morning, after a full day traveling with my host, a day which ended with a sudden, minor panic.

I was due to take a ferry across the Irish Sea to Wales to meet my best friend, and because I’ve had so little sleep these last few days, I waited a little too long to purchase my ferry ticket.  All afternoon sailings were booked, leaving me only the option of 8am or 10pm, and only the early sailing would allow me to arrive in time to take a train to my next stop, Caernarfon.

I may have slipped out of time, but the rest of the world has not.

I noticed my mistake at 11pm on Saturday night and purchased the early ticket.  8am isn’t bad in most places, but 8am on a Sunday morning in a heavily Catholic country might as well be 4am–there were no buses that would get me to the terminal in time.

I certainly guess I might have taken a taxi, but taxis cost money and feet are free, so, after managing to sleep a full hour (jetlag’s still got me), I hefted my rucksack and set off on what became a two-and-a-half hour forced march along the Liffey to the Port three hours before sunrise.

It occurs to me one can spin such a predicament however one likes.  Certainly the prospect of waking into a cold and wet and very dark city well before dawn after only one hour of sleep and trudging quickly to catch a ferry carrying 40 pounds of stuff on your back is a miserable thing, except when it’s the most thrilling thing you can possibly think of.  Actually, I kinda love this sort of shit.

Alone as the wind whipped past me in a city I don’t know, surrounded by the voices of the dead and sleeping souls, I walked along the River Liffey and followed her dark, brooding, somber passage through the streets of Dublin, my head full of thoughts mostly my own.

The sights I saw will haunt me for ages, particularly as I drew closer to the sea.  The city that was and the city that is stood together, dripping sky-tears into the river at my right as clouds hid and revealed the year’s last half-moon in the final days before Midwinter.

I really didn’t have the time to stop, but when I came upon a set of emaciated statues, I pretty much had no choice.

By the “International Financial District,” (Dublin’s occupied “Green-Zone” from the Neo-Liberal invasion), there stands a parade of statues, an understated memorial to the victims of the Irish famine.

famine moon

There’s something we tend to forget about famines, and particularly the Irish ones.

But what the dead remember and the living mostly do not is this: the famine and mass exodus of Irish folks was caused by the failure of a crop only as much as the the flooding of New Orleans was caused by a hurricane or the Dust Bowl was caused by bad weather.

Potatoes aren’t even native to Ireland.


Here, amongst the new foreign banks, the start-ups, the financial and tech firms all eager to bring a decidedly un-modern land into the Modern, there stands these statues.

They are emptied shells, almost impossible to look at for very long, depictions of humans so desperate to survive their new starvation, a famine caused by the next new thing of their time (that is, the birth of Capitalism), and they shamble near the docks, forever frozen alongside the next new thing of our time.

The irony is almost as painful as their wretched faces in the moonlight by the river, their strained, desperate, despairing looks crying remember.

More than anywhere, it was here I felt the dead, the dead who do not forget, as much as we the living try to forget them.

To be in time is to be separated from our memory, here in the forgetting, but it’s the dead, outside of time, who remain to remind us.

Famine Moon 5

7 thoughts on “In The Time of the Dead

  1. Troublesome, moving post…..
    The Irish belief, much like the Jewish one, is that while remembered you’re not yet really dead (like yer man there, Cú Chulainn, in the GPO). The Famine People haunt me without my having ever seen them in real so I can imagine how it would be to come upon them in the dark night, already wrought up.

    Some good memories as well as poignant ones, neh?

  2. Dublin is a weird city for these sorts of things, and I haunted its vast tracts of pavement on foot many times at odd hours myself back in ’00-’05 (and Cork, and Galway a few times as well), walking much further than suggested due to situations exactly like what you’ve described, and with more luggage, if you can believe it! 😉

    The Famine is something forgotten by much of the world, but it is pretty much yesterday and the last thought one just had for so much of the Irish population, and not even consciously for many of them. So much of the Irish character as known to the wider world, and to the Irish themselves, is borne of post-famine impacts and mindsets.

    I saw it so often in the silent, non-plussed inability to be fazed that so many Irish people have in the face of anything, whether it be great joy, sorrow, or simple and utter strangeness.

    It’s a very odd place, but a magical one…

    I’ll be sending you something soon, I hope…

  3. ….uncreasing the dog-ear edges of its pages for me..

    Oil beef fooked, they really shouldn’t put people with OCD in
    those jobs!!

    I reckon you made his day!

  4. Oddly enough, in the course of my own working with undines, came across a motto of the MMBW, known as Melbourne Water now (in Australia).

    When the MMBW was formed in 1891 it adopted the motto ‘The public health is my reward’. In order to protect the health of the public, the purity of the water supply was paramount.

    The public health is my reward. I can get down with that.

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