As a child, I never wanted to be Irish. This was a convenient circumstance, since I wasn’t. (My Irish name is my husband’s gift to this Sicilian girl.)
Then I grew up and fell in love with poetry—English poetry first, then American poetry, and then, finally, fully, fatally, I fell in love with Irish poetry. The yearning of Yeats, the wicked wit of Kavanagh, the heart and heft of Heaney—all of them spoke to me, or rather, sang to me, in voices that were at once distinctly their own and also the collective voice of their common clan. It was then that I wanted in.
This itch to be Irish only got worse when I visited Ireland for the first time. Once our plane set down on Shannon’s tarmac (holy ground), once we got in our rental car and started driving across the glorious West of Ireland, I recognized the landscape as though it were my own. Irish poetry—with its deep rooting in the past, its mists of memory, its hard love of the hard land—had claimed me, planted in me the bizarre belief that I belonged to Ireland. I felt a sense of homecoming I’ve felt in only one other place in the world—Sicily, my true ancestral island from which my grandparents emigrated 100 years ago.
Though Ireland & Sicily might seem to have little in common—one ruled by rain, the other sun—they share much: a rich history of miraculous happenings; a penchant for saint-making; a fierce pride in their separateness, their exiled state; a wild & wonderful language that makes ordinary English and Italian sound strait-jacketed, tied-up, and tame.
As a child, I never wanted to be Irish. Now, as an adult, I do (oh, I do).
Happily, as a poet, I’ve found a way to claim this invented identity—or, at least, to imagine it—through poetry. The poem that follows belongs to a series called, “Crossing Irish,” a suite of poems I wrote five years ago during another visit to that Island of the Blessed. Since March belongs to the Irish, I’ll be publishing all 12 poems at Artists Without Walls along with photos chosen by AWOW editor, Charles Hale–one a day, in anticipation of the great Feast Day of St. Patrick. The first poem appears below, and the link to the whole series is posted at the bottom of the page.
For all of you Irish readers out there, I hope this Italian-American wannabe’s work might not seem presumptuous. For all of you non-Irish readers who are also lovers of Ireland—well, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
ON NOT BELONGING TO IRELANDOur Aer Lingus flies through Irish skies, and I know I’m not at home well before my feet touch the Tarmac. Filing into Shannon, we take our places in the long line of Irish ex-pats whose cousins left as hopeful as they arrive. Here I am clear extra, exotic by Irish measure, if not New York’s, my dark hair and olive hands a sign. You don’t look Catholic, says the ex-priest who left Queens and his cassock behind for this spot at Hughes’ bar, An Spidéil. Italian—or Jew—what’s the difference? says the glint in his Irish eye. Nothing of you begins here, where we do— his American accent stronger than mine, me with my traitorous poet’s ear who loves all music better than my own. At two weeks’ end, I’ll speak with a lilt, the song of the Island sown in my dreams, my foreign heart more native than she seems.
This essay and these poems were originally published at the Artist Without Walls Blog: https://www.artistswithoutwalls.com/tag/angela-alaimo-odonnell/