Sunday, November 28, 2010

Her Name

His name, Clarke, meant clerk. I immediately thought of a kirke, which I  called a dagger, thinking of Bedouin men and of their women confined to tents in the parapatetic desert. He was named for an Irish martyr, Robert Emmett, heroically swearing Erin go braugh! on the Limey gallows in the Belfast square, his compatriots among the co wardly crowd stifling their anger, their tears. He was honored to carry such a name to his early grave. Cancer of the esophagus. Too many Camels, the kind doctors provided testimonials for when I was growing up and my own father teaching me to smoke them, all I had to do was watch. And drinking I taught him to do. Irishmen, especially full blooded Catholics–is there such a thing?–had their glass of green grog each evening as orderly as one could be among the many Eire. He named her Cathleen, after Cathleen ni Houlihan though he had never read all of Yeats’s verse play. He hated reading verse plays: it was one thing to see them acted on stage, another to spend your silent time of an evening reading and having to see them and hear them happen in your head now that the Danish-named woman Petersen who was more Polish gypsy said nothing she could think of to rage at him for having done or, worse, not having done . . . She said no. She named her Karen Lee. He said no. He named her Cathleen Clarke, Her mother kept at him and he drank, played poker downtown and the horses at the track. She had her way. He called her Kee. He didn’t know it was a Navajo name. It was a quick abbreviation of the name on her birth certificate, and besides it was his own. Irish Cathleen I renamed her after he died and kept it confined to the page before you, this closet drama happening fifty years ago one January evening far off in the city Seattle.

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