Smoke All I want is a tiny cottage on the Dingle Peninsula. I could live in peace on this windswept green. America doesn’t own me anymore. I’d rather fly to family via Aer Lingus than drive up Ohio, across Pennsylvania, to New York. I’m done passing the billboards on 71N in Ohio, the Ten Commandments split between two canvases alongside the barn, the Confederate flag painted on its roof. I don’t wish to be reminded by the sign on the trip back that “Hell Is Real.” Hell, yeah, it’s real. America is aflame. With each wildfire season, the West gets torched, fueled by the superheat of our heedless need. Cities are coals of unrest, Black sons & daughters gunned-down as if prey. Give me the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s west coast instead. Let me puzzle the Gaelic posted above the English, let me turn into a pebbled drive beside my pastel-painted home, let the hearth be spirited with peat. Near the coast, standing stones frame a doorway the ancients believed you pass through into another world. My ancestors fled Ireland because they were starving, I hunger for this place to belong. - published Nov. 27th, 2020, by Indolent Books in "Transitions: Poems in the Afterglow." https://www.indolentbooks.com/transition-poems-in-the-afterglow-11-27-20-ellen-austin-li/?fbclid=IwAR1VGkrMCTlm7qhPxaG2lX4d0ZUSlrBBvLKzmwQ5mOyS6fAhzZ6H_hQrMbA
To say 2020 has been a challenging year for us all is an understatement. No real news there. For many of us, the state of our socio-political landscape only adds to the stress of trying to navigate the pandemic. For me, feelings of hopelessness and simply being discouraged by the level of willing complicity in perpetuating systemic racism, coupled with an unwillingness to commit to behavioral changes that would meaningfully address climate change, create a tipping point. I know I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed. As a poet, I believe bearing witness to these fraught times plays a dual role, both as an encapsulation of this time and as a balm for myself and others. It’s important to know we are not alone, maybe even more so while the pandemic separates us.
A year ago this past May, I made my first trip to Ireland—the land of my ancestors (most of them, anyway). The physical beauty of this island—its vibrant greens riven with rough-hewn stone walls, its dramatic shorelines, especially on the West Coast along the Atlantic—drew me in. Even more magnetic were the stories associated with the ancient sites: the ring forts, the standing stones, the dolmens, the fairy forests. The other-worldliness felt familiar, as if I had participated in these stories before. I left Ireland reluctantly, feeling as if I had finally made it home. That feeling may just be the fanciful writer in me, but it stayed inside. I’m still writing about that trip today.
It seems inevitable that Ireland would be the place I turned to (in this poem) when I felt so overwhelmed after the November election. The trauma over the past four years, culminating in this deadly pandemic’s gross mismanagement, which has unnecessarily cost far too many lives, and so many of my fellow Americans voted for the same leader? I don’t recognize my country anymore. Forgive me if our politics diverge, but even if they do, how can any of us believe that the murder of George Floyd (and so many more Black Americans) is not a call for a major change? And how can any of us choose to support climate change deniers when the evidence becomes more urgent every day?
I know that my home is here, in America, and that this is where I need to stay if I want to be part of the solution. But, sometimes, it helps to fantasize that I can run away to a place where I can live a simpler life, a place that offers more peace. In the short term, such psychic escape holds great allure. Dreaming of departure is a way to cope, maybe even express this anger that has nowhere else to go (save a poem). Putting the words down, articulating at least some of the frustration, offers relief. But naming the issues, ironically, reveals that I know what must be done. Awareness of the problem(s) is always the first step. The next one? What actions can I take to be part of the solution?