Saturday, September 30, 2006

Richard Lemm "My Class Draws a Blank on Robbie Burns"

If we forget where we come from
we move half blind through what we are.
I ask my mother and uncle, born Alexanders:
What part of Scotland, what clan?
Uncle Curt laughs, "We're Americans."
Not that I want a tartan, or my ancestors'
motto, other than that I first learned,
gimme liberty or gimme death. And Levi's
are my heritage, Disney's Crockett, John Wayne,
but blue jeans came from sail cloths, Genoese,
a Swiss merchant who saw the need
and that new clan of levellers who'd wear
one colour from Tennessee to Oregon.
And here, among descendants of the Highland
Clearances, the Famine, the Expulsion,
the name on lips is Calvin
Klein, and who the hell's Robbie Burns.
I'm glad you're now able to marry
across those old religious lines,
and that your grandfather's ghost won't grip
and guide your hand in the voting booth.
There's too much that needs loving
to wear old hatreds like a gunman's mask.
Roy plugs his fiddle into Peavey amps
and the old lament escapes
Cromwell's sword, while the step dancers'
heads bow down. When I ask my class
the difference between two world wars:
one was black-and-white, one was in colour.
Yet that's more history than my potato-eating
forebears knew, travelling only as far as
their church to hear how God sent boatloads
of food to London as a test for His chosen.
We can have pizza or eggrolls day and night
and this is our glorious amnesia, entertained by
miniseries fragments of India and Rome.
The Shogun, Eva Peron, and Old Possum
dance with Anne Boleyn and out
to the Green Gables store for ice cream
for old Hugh MacAuley's wake. At my grave
I want one of you who can still play the pipes.

South side of Leinster Street, mid-way between Carmarthen and Sydney


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