A Turn of Phrase

by Mark Jay Brewin, Jr.

     — for Kevin Boyle

Tell us some Irish phrases, one French girl says
to the bartender hitting on her French friend,
and being the womanizer and bartender he is,
he replies, I don’t know if it’s Irish, but we use it
none the less…—now a wink at the friend,
as he pours them another round—Keep up
like this and you’ll be after ‘The Hair of the Dog’
tomorrow.  The one who asked, pencils this
into her notebook, trying to grasp
what was meant, the bartender asking them
both back to his flat for morning drinks,
apologizing and winking more, explaining
the Galway Hooker was named for boats
native to the bay, rather than loose women—
Wink, wink—but the French girls leave quietly
after the traditional music ends, the bartender
busy closing tabs, setting up for the lock-in.

In an alley off Mainguard and Shop street,
there are ruins—like every other corner
or county, ruins upon ruins—of the Hall
of the Red Earl and the roots of Galway
interred under the Irish Revenue house,
Anglo-Normans having pinned this port’s
tongue to Old French and hosted banquets,
dispensed justice, collected taxes—
Appropriate, don’t you think?—years ago.
In fact, because this has always been
a tourist town, many falsely believe Galway
was named for Anglo-Norman invaders,
foreigners, the Old French and new,
Americans, Brits, womanizers from every
morally-ruined country in the world
storming upon this seaside town—FALSE—
it’s actually named after Gaillimh inion
Breasail, the daughter of an Irish chieftain
who drowned in the quick river current.

So the girl’s name is pinned to the tip
of everyone’s tongue when they say Galway,
though she sank into the Corrib’s flow
like the pint glasses and road cones
drunk Americans toss into the Middle
river’s canal—Galway, the town flourishing
at the edge of the water, the bay
with its hookers cutting the quick current,
with its modern day hookers hooking up
with womanizers in the chilly night.
Two Irishmen look over the Salmon
Weir bridge across the river, watching
two crew boats darting for each other.
A quick turn, smart rowing to get them out
of trouble, and one Irishman—between
penciling numbers in the paper’s crossword—
comments to the other how the space
between those boats was As tight
as a fish’s ass…, at the exact same moment
as the French girls walk on the other side
of the bridge, commenting that the man
at the pub last night was Beautiful
like a Lorrie, you know?  Wink, wink.

Even today, the maiden’s drowning
is a tragic one—tragedy, the easiest thing
to translate into any language, compared to
the Natalie Wood joke I could make
or the comment about how the chieftain
must have drank like a fish after that loss
and got the whole island started, because
What American knows who Natalie Wood is
today? And What American doesn’t know
that Irishmen drink like a fish? I know,
I am a tourist in a tourist’s city.
These comments would have fallen
on the clueless ears of the French girls,
if I had made them.  The only colloquialisms
or ideas they could have thought of
or gathered from my joking and inappropriate
winking would have been that, in French,
you say My mouth is like wood to mean
you have a hangover, or I drink like
a hole for a common-day drunk.  It is fairly
selfish, but I don’t think there is anything
wrong with learning the language
of a new city, a good place to find some
friction, to looking into your own soul
and—if lucky—breaking the skin on the pool
of the self wallowing in a turn of phrase.

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