In the fall of 2017, the writer and his wife spent seven weeks touring various places in Europe, and while this was not the first time they had been to that continent, the experience, to Tony, at least, seemed to afford opportunities to see their explorations in a fresh light.
This volume reflects some of the ways in which he began to understand that many of the experiences he encountered on this trip were often the result of the expectations that he would dutifully carry out his role as tourist. To this end, he realized that he was obligated to be awe-struck by the sites du jour and to spend lots of money on souvenirs. He confesses to voluntarily engaging in the former behaviors but avoiding as much of the latter as possible.
It's a Tourist Town, Anne
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Barricade to the Promised Land
County Mayo, Ireland, and Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Right there, where that thicket rises up on the roadside;
that’s where my great uncle and his boys lay in ambush
for the black and tans; and killed two of them dead and sent
a half-dozen more scattering, most of them bloodied.
It didn’t make up for the starvation, never could,
but it kept them at bay a little longer and made
the war more real than anything they encountered
at the Somme. Oh, our boys surely took the fighting’s brunt,
but all that accomplished was to train them to face death
without blinking and dish it out when the country called.
But that’s all in the past: Now we’ve come into our own,
and the future is one of peace and prosperity.
We’ve kept our land, our birthright, and unity will come.
Only a generation more, maybe two, before
the deaths on that road are no longer a point of pride,
even perhaps will be as forgotten as the names
of those whose bodies fell and lay in the muddy track
’til retrieved for burial in their own native land
from whence they dared venture with the intent to claim ours.
My great-grandfather, Hugh, died for his country, gunned down
In a cowardly ambush as he marched the final
leagues to his quarters where his supper and bed would grant
him a brief respite from the terrors perpetrated
by rebels whose sole aim was to wrest lawful control
of the land in the name of their forefathers, men who
had long since abandoned it to the earls and other
competent landlords who had made it prosper for years.
These malcontents were fond of boasting about a past
in which Brian Boru drove the Vikings from their shores,
but they conveniently overlooked the destruction
wrought by their own warring tribes even as they had stood
one by one with foreign invaders promising wealth.
But those centuries that have come before are only
found detailed in history books that tout progress
toward unity. And in our schools, our children will learn
to accept religious intolerance as a thing
long past, and they will come to see, as truth, a vision
that one day there will be a single, combined people,
and this will be the new truth. One nation, where distant
stories about our kin are, on occasion, passed down
during family feastings, those tales that contain but
shadowed glimpses of ignominious deaths suffered
at the hands of the murderous forebears of people
who, for generations have proven untrustworthy,
but with whom our grandchildren will learn to comingle.
The dying lion says much more for the power of art
than it does the power of historical symbols.
The arrows piercing its stone flesh only tell the story
of a battle lost as the king lays his suffering head
on a shield, matted mane framing a partially open mouth
as the beast gasps for one final breath before the sad eyes
close forever on a moment of a nation’s past history.
In the cliff wall above the monument are carved the words:
“HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI,” attesting to the loyalty and
bravery of the Swiss which would imply selfless devotion to
cause and a sacrifice worthy of the adoration of all those who,
like Twain, regard this sculpture as “the saddest and most moving
piece of rock in the world.” And, perhaps, it truly may be.
Except…except…except for that pesky thing called context.
Those devoted mercenaries existed as a steady revenue stream
for wealthy families, and their ferocity in war was their brand.
When King Louis the Sixteenth’s palace was attacked by a mob
that fatal August day, the royal family was not in residence,
even though the frenzied crowd was unaware of that fact.
All the same, the hired guards fought to protect royal property
from total destruction; thus they fired on a force many times
their size and were rapidly cut down. Seven hundred fifty men
gave their lives for furniture. Not the best advertising for future
clientele, though with a proper spin, the nobility of a monument
could obtain a pedigree that would justify the public expense
of its commission. And stating the case in Latin lent a certain
gravitas to the political braggadocio needed to excuse an absurd
tragedy whose only victory was to be found in the sculptor’s hand.
Dear Sir or Madame,
I am sorry this response has been so late,
but I have been out of the country for several
weeks and, consequently, have missed your
pleas for my help in alleviating some of
America’s most pressing problems.
Allow me to respond at this time, lest
you think I am unsympathetic to these causes.
I am home at last, and I see on the news
a photo from some other place where
a child displays his severed legs caused
by a bomb dropped on his village.
I switch the channel and am shown
images of people scavenging through
the muck and debris of dumps
where the trash of the wealthy
is piled far from their elite eyes and noses.