Feature Articles

TRY A BIG FISH FOR LENT by Macdara Woods

(PI News, July/August 2002)

February 16th

The Port Authority Bus, my favourite way to travel, part of the never-ending construction of JFK and the immediate visual confusion of language: Philly Shuttle. Shared Ride Permitted Only. Golden Touch Transportation. How To Go From Here To There. Double Happiness West Indian And American Chinese Restaurant.

And, always amazing, the graveyard panorama, megalopolis of tombstones at junction of Long Island and Van Wyck E/ways; John Montague’s poem about the quiet graveyard in Queens. Not here, but always comes to mind. Pat Kaufman’s loft between Prince and Houston, one of the nicest places I know. Sunday, walk in Central Park. Four days later. Pennsylvania. Good Reading at Immaculata College, standing room only, read for an hour, questions for half an hour, then signing books. Notice in a Philadelphia street reads: Curb Your Dog Elsewhere. Top floor of the Natural History Museum I find a Yak, solitary in his landscaped case. We gaze at each other glassily, across the vast upland plain, lost immigrants. A French family comes round the corner: ‘Oh! C’est un Yak!’

Every day the body count from Noble, Georgia, rises. 80 when I arrived, now 120. The crematorium owner has been charged with theft by deception.

Two days later. Siena College, upstate NY. Books on current Irish Studies course. Read for an hour again, half-hour questions. Went well. A bonus meeting Naton Leslie. Noble body count risen to 140.

Take the train down the Hudson from Albany to NYC. Stupendous scenery. The river appears sometimes a series of vast lakes. Ruskin’s twelve-windowed tower, and the ‘never-ending play of light and shadow upon the hills’. But this is grander. Continents of clouds. Headlands like the massif above Grenoble.

Little beaches all along, filled up with driftwood, in Yonkers a sign: Self Storage Rooms.Back in Soho. Pat and I walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, for Elisabeth Bishop, the whole of Manhattan behind us, resurrected, glittering in the sun. In the middle distance the Statue of Liberty, poised, startlingly green and toy-like, a little plastic night-light. Northwards a march of bridges. We seem to be half as high as the sky-scrapers, and far, far below, the water, almost at an angle. Everything is all hard light, a truth of suspension.

Advertising programmes on night time television: the terrible human pain beyond the windows. The fear of death, the frantic scrabble for a cure.
’Core calcium and two hours sunlight on the face each day, without sun block’, will cure pretty well everything, ‘because it bathes the body in electrons’.
’Take Nerx for sexual energy’. ’Superblu Stuff, delivered to the part by Emu Oil, guaranteed to reduce pain, inflammation, swelling in just five minutes’. ‘I couldn’t get from the bed to the bathroom, now I live a normal life.’ (Endorsement).
In contrast, Lapis Blue Blood Red, a play about painter Artemisia Gentileschi, in a local theatre. Well-staged, well-written. Dinner with Maura Mulligan in La Madeleine, 43rd and 9th. Each year she celebrates Samhain here with her dance students. Interweavings.

Next day, Fifth Avenue for Reading, in the American Irish Historical Society. Marvellous house. Portraits of John Devoy, John Mitchell, Thomas Davis, Daniel O Connell. But, oddly, Edmund Burke looking over my shoulder as I read. An hour again, questions, wine, signed books.

JFK to fly to Ohio. FBI now doing Security. Put my belongings in the scanner, went through the gate, patted down with detector, told to take off my boots, boots scanned, told to unbuckle belt, checked again, given all clear, and sent to check-in. At check-in desk produced ticket and passport, checked bag through, then told I’d been ‘selected for random search’, brought with bag to second queue. Indians and Asians mainly. Bag searched, and jacket. All cleared. Sent back to conveyor belt with suitcase.

Waited at Departure Gate 15 for flight to be called, then yet another ‘random search’: ‘Undo your belt, take off your shoes, open your bags, empty your pockets’. This time two Russians, an Asian man, an Indian man and me, standing like Toulouse-Lautrec ‘Medical Inspection’, minus boots, belts dangling, as the ordinary passengers passed us by, eyes averted.

Met in Cincinnati by Bill Williams, night freezing outside. The large Catholic presence in Cincinnati, evidenced by a marvellous sign outside Burger King, on the snowy Strip: Try A Big Fish For Lent. Bill tells me Spike Milligan had just died. He would have liked the Big Fish.
Body count in Noble is now over 300.
Reading at the University of Miami at 10am, went well, an hour, plus questions.
Reading at Mt. Adams Book Store this evening.
Drove this morning to Peebles and Serpent Mound, fifty miles east of Cincinnati. An enormous earthwork, first century BC to 900 AD, on a hill top, 400 metres long, a Serpent eating the Sun? Eating a frog? An egg?
Another puzzling symbol, on the Appalachian back road from Maysville to Ripley, on a wooden porch, a statue of the Sacred Heart, about 14 inches high, flanked on either side by two similar sized statues of brown ducks, facing toward it and toward one another.

Reading, Union Institute & University, 10am, an hour and ten, a woman from the Belfast News. Then straight up Interstate 75 to Dayton through appalling rain, windscreen wipers hammering like an auxiliary engine. Clean Your Salty Finish With The Works. Keep America Afloat - Buy A Boat. Cold last night, 28 below freezing.
Noble body count now 339. They have started to drain a small lake.
Check-in for Boston. ‘Sorry Mr Woods, but a call for a bag-search has come up on your profile.’ Bags emptied, then through ordinary Security, boots checked, belt etc, scanned all over.

Wait at Departure Gate B7, then same as before, bleep bleep, lights flashing, Random Check again, bags searched again, boots taken away again, machine run all over me. How will we know you, the Boston people asked? Easy. I’ll be the one with the glowing feet. The searchers make friendly conversation:
‘My husband wants to go to Ireland, but I say you can go on your own.’
‘Is it really as bad there as we see on the news?’
Good Reading at U. Mass. Weather extraordinarily beautiful, magnificent view of the city and Bay from window of the University restaurant. Everyone at the Joiner Center more than pleasant, more than hospitable. Hope to do a Vietnamese issue of Cyphers, with Kevin Bowen.

March 9th

Sabra Loomis and I to Isabella Gardner Museum. Unbelievable. Central courtyard a Venetian palazzo, with Italian garden, enormous, with enclosed mini-climate.
Such acquisitiveness, on such a scale, by one person, must be insane. A labyrinthine house of huge rooms, corridors, walls everywhere covered with Titians, Rembrandts, Velasquez - Philip IV on one wall and Juanna of Austria opposite. Pinturicchios, Botticellis, armour, china, glass, inlay, wooden ceilings, musical instruments, whole mad dark salons. Provenance Bernard Berenson.
Gnomic sign in the street: Ultimate Towing.
Sitting alone in Logan airport, no random check. I think of the Yak in Philadelphia. See the Aer Lingus cabin crew being scanned. Home by morning.

Macdara WoodsKnowledge in the Blood: New & Selected Poems was published by Dedalus in 2000.

  • WIS Single Visit Application Form
  • Writers in Libraries Application Form
  • Writers in Residence Application Form
pixel design