A Parting Glass: A Remembrance of Ireland by Bradley R. Strahan

Reviewed by Dominic Scopa

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“A Parting Glass: A Remembrance of Ireland”
Brickhouse Books, 2014
$12.00, 20 pages
ISBN: 978-1-938144-23-3

The chapbook A Parting Glass: A Remembrance of Ireland, by Bradley R. Strahan, features poems that “make a space for joy” for the momentary revelations that reach the speakers “like a perfect note held just long enough,” and “in the briefest of moments (they) still can celebrate!” The speaker in “Wintertide” imagines ghosts hovering above an organ as a choir sings, as if the moment fills a certain void that death manifests—“they linger clinging / to this saving remnant’s fellowship // before they must return to their overgrown stones / and the long lone years of forgetting” (Strahan 8-11). The music emanating from the organ organizes these spirits into a choir of their own. These spirits may be the “deaths listed plainly in the single sheet of parish news.” The speaker insinuates that these spirits come and go, perhaps at the sound of the organ, and the speaker seems to know their behavior, as if he witnessed it before.  Interestingly, the music manifests a solace for the ghosts in the same manner that it manifests a moment of solace for the speaker observing the ghosts. “Shirley at the Organ”  features a speaker that allows music to slip into his soul and provide a momentary degree of solace: “Here with you, believing / against unbelief; / holding this against grief, / that these few notes have meaning / beyond the daily dimming” (Strahan 2-6). This poem almost acts as the speaker’s experience of hearing the music, while the previous poem acts as the spirit’s experience of hearing the music. The speaker clearly battles with some grief, which the music temporarily quells. Several of the poems center around a short, meditative moment, often accompanied by music of some sort, which launches introspection, as in “A Book of Common Prayer”: “Let me still recall / the goodness that amazed // though nothing follows / being in this state of grace” (Strahan 7-10). These states of grace are those moments, “held just long enough”, mentioned in the opening poem. Other poems in center around objects, and their ability to simultaneously comfort and antagonize.

“Irish Churchyards”

This is not to say anything
about stones or the moss
that grows on motionless things,

or the gnarled trees that uproot
illegible memorials.
Perhaps they could decipher this silence

but those pockmarked stones made mute
by all this dreadful wind and rain
speak only of the loneliness of the grave. (Strahan 1-9).

The speaker details the stones in the graveyard and states that a myriad of memories could be “uprooted” from the soil, ostensibly both good and bad memories. This highlights the ability of objects to comfort. Good memories would obviously comfort the speaker, however, he cannot help but see the physical condition of the stones “made mute” by the turbulent conditions. The physical description—beaten and worn—nullifies the possibility of the comfort. The speaker only sees the stones as they are. Their physical deformities illuminate the internal landscape of the speaker, when he states that the stones “speak only of the loneliness of the grave.” “Worship” similarly evokes this theme:

As stone upon stone forms the church,
so each tale joins another to make the myth,
a history turning true by being told.

As yarn knits together to form whole cloth,
so dreams grow together into belief.
A robe, a river, a book of verse, it’s so odd.

Sew them together and we see God.

The speaker in this poem depicts the stories, as the stones, weaving together to form belief. The entirety of the creations, as the beliefs that drove their creation, all culminate with the image of God. Perhaps many of the “tales” express negative elements. Several tales from the Bible certainly exude sadness and tribulation. However, the speaker cognizes that all of the tales work towards a comforting end. “Worship” both centers around objects and a meditative moment that the speaker senses and, like with nearly all of these poems in the chapbook, “brevity is all, as in a thousand old songs, and church graveyards.”