TOAST ON A SUMMER AFTERNOON
- Eileen M. D’Angelo
I ordered a Guinness and thought of you,
on the deck of The Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is August,
and the wind sighs a hint of fall. The scent of sage
drifts down the mountains, over stone mansions,
to the Switch Back Railroad on the hill.
Here in Mahoning Valley at the bottom of a bowl of trees,
Sunday falls gently on my shoulders like late summer light,
here where the Mauch Chunk Creek secretly runs
below the streets, rushing all the way to the Lehigh River.
Somewhere in the woods I know the first curled leaf
is beginning to change. It has taken every ray of white sun it can,
and will take no more: it has held on for this very afternoon.
When autumn’s first chill steals down the valley, it will let go.
The afternoon light shifts on the wooden floor of the pub,
where men walked a hundred years ago, me with dark hair
and light eyes like yours, hearts burning hope
in a new land, hands full of black diamonds, lungs full of coal dust.
Maybe your ancestors and mine, these mining Molly Maguires,
their very lives owned by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal
& Iron Company. Innocents hanged for crimes invented by rich men,
lies spun to hold Irish mineworkers, to chain them to the land.
Their spirits haunt the old stone jail: Walk now, where their bodies
once swung before a crowd. Strange: the sound of bagpipes on the air.
Whispering voices rise from the dark earth, cry out from dungeon cells,
from collapsed tunnels far below. Their scattered bones
ache between coal veinsand underground streams.
Today, I raise my glass to all of them. To you.
The Guinness is dark and strong. The froth soft upon my lips.
Sunlight warms my pale cheek, as the old clock tower,
in the center of town, tolls the hour.
(Previously published in Philadelphia Stories)
* * *
We each have a history. History is where we live. Sometimes we must move to a new setting for complex reasons. Often unjust, often haunted, always mixed with emotions. Our memories, our memories of those we know and love flow like rivers, like the seasons.