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Robert Gibb: Enactments of Identity


So, is that stiff still laid out in his coffin

Back in Barto on St. Patrick’s Day?

The “Finnegans Wake” that packed them in,

One half-keg tapped after another.


He played dead so perfectly (imperfection

A dead giveaway), you’d be hard-pressed

To catch him at it without a mirror

Plumed with the mists of his breath.


But then it was hands-to-yourself when

It came to that guest of honor we’d all neglect

Once we got on with our evening.


A miracle how he managed to stay awake

And stock-still in that posture, holding 

His own until last call signaled resurrection.


McSorely’s, 1968, snow falling upon East 7thStreet 

and beyond it into the darkness of the Bowery. 

“On a winter night I heard horses on a country road,” 

Shaw offers up, swapping quotes with Thompson 

and me and the three old sods drinking at our table. 

a barroom the color of porter, sawdust on the floor, 

fire stoked beside us in the pot-bellied stove . . .

I’ve been savoring the familiar setting: clippings, 

photos and mottoes—Be good or be gone—that paper 

the walls from wainscots to ceiling, the silica of dust 

on the oil lamp hanging above us. We’ve been here

since before you were born. When I tune back to the talk, 

it’s about a banner behind the bar—THE 113TH

IRISH LANCERS—and being such fine lads and all, 

how would we like to become “honorary members”? 

All that’s needed is for us to kiss the shillelagh 

the bartender’s been asked to bring to our table.

Something’s up, I can tell from all the laughter as it 

begins to make its overly elaborate round, but when 

that tapered black scepter gets to me, I go and plant 

a good long wet one as well. Backslaps and cheers. 

Splashes of ale on the table. “Do you know what 

you’ve just kissed, boyos? The bull’s prick!” 

They’re close to toppling from off their chairs. 

We sit there beaming, initiate, bearing the brunt.


Years ago the friend of a friend called me 

A “Professional Irishman.” Fair enough,

Though I was never half so bad or green-

Beer demented as that crowd of drinkers 

Pounding them down this St. Patrick’s Day, 

Tuned as they were to nothing but clichés,

LOVE ME I’M IRISH the T-shirted touch.

Not that I’d expected to hear anyone recite

“Crazy Jane and the Bishop,”

But Black-and-Tans and Car Bombs!?

So what was I doing then, later that night, 

Ordering my double shot of Jameson’s—

Distillate water and barley I sipped, 

Stepping into (or was that out of?) character.

Copyright 2019 Robert Gibb

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This entry was posted on March 17, 2019 by in Poetry and tagged , , .

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