Irish Wake

Shane MacGowan in corner, strumming a guitar:

Oh, Kitty, my darling, remember,
that the doom will be mine, if I stay,
’tis far better to part though it’s hard to,
than to rot in their prison away…

Lincoln, sitting silently, chin in hand, leaning slightly forward, just like the portrait painted of him.

Enter Kennedy, walking in, as if to a press conference, but slightly slower. Lincoln, after a pause, as Kennedy stops, as if to look around: “You too? Well, that’s okay. I was kind of expecting you anyway.” Lincoln rises. Reaches to shake hands. “You look good. Welcome.”

Kennedy: Well, thank you, Mr. President. I, ah, hear, uh, your ghost has been keeping in touch with the current matters.

Lincoln: Oh, now and then. It’s hard not to. I couldn’t resist Churchill. No one would believe a drunk anyway, I figured. But you got there, and I could take it easy and sit in tree tops on April mornings feeling the swelling wind, or I’d go find a horse… I liked the catafalque. I go over to Fort Myers sometimes, up on that field overlooking the river, where they keep the caissons in the stables there. To stand there in Virginia…
It’s funny how things happen.

Kennedy: We all have our night at the theater, Mr. Lincoln. You were gracious to begin the tradition.

Lincoln: I thought that was a nice touch, actually, not that we’re in control of these things. The timing, I thought, was fitting, and my death was proper enough. I’d said what I wanted to say, or what needed to be said, pretty much. It’s hard to let go, though.

Kennedy: Bind up the nation’s wounds. “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray,” that was an excellent moment. We took a lot from that.

Lincoln: Helping out. I figured I’d help start the pattern. Say something great before you go. Might as well. Why the hell not.

Kennedy: I agree with you very much, Mr. President. It goes quickly, but, that last fine run, makes it all the sweeter.

Lincoln: Look, here’s your rocking chair. They are a comfort aren’t they? I was sitting in one, you know, that night.

MacGowan [in a soft voice]: “Music is just music, really. It’s in the fucking water, it’s in the fucking ground, it’s in the fucking rain… it’s in the fucking wind. Everywhere, really. People just put it into boxes. That’s how I look at it.”

Glass of wine anyone? Might as well… Hch, hch, hch, hch, hchh…

In a day, I’ll be over the mountains.
There’ll be time enough left for to cry,
so good night and God guard you forever…

Kennedy: I’m glad we’re all Irish here.

Lincoln: It helps, I’d say. Hell, we always were. Thus, all our problems, fitting ourselves in. Why we were great. Why we ended up in a box.

That was nice you got to go there.

Kennedy: It was a place to go say things.

Lincoln: There’s good things to do when you’re President. I felt like shit up at Gettysburg. But it was worth it. Funny how it all works out.

Kennedy: Yes, I’d say so. It all works out.

Lincoln: So when did you realize it? You kept an awfully good sense of humor about the whole thing. Me, I just aged before the camera. Ha ha. I thought that was the thing to do. As if I was sorta tellin’, no, you don’t want this damn job anyway. You want it? Hell, take it.

Kennedy: And those generals… Jesus Christ.

Lincoln: Yes. Thank you.

Hey, they’ll always joke… you know. Kennedy’s secretary, Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald… That they too in turn get shot…

But it is kind of odd when you think about it, all the parallels. The geometry. Euclid, old boy, he was right. Two little freaks, integers. Small men, just like always. And your own dead body smiling, as if to teach a final lesson, bowing out to the curtain.

Kennedy: Yes, don’t go to the theater. The theater. It is all the same, when you look at it, Mr. Lincoln, isn’t it.

Lincoln: Always liked your sense of humor.


When I first came to London,
I was only sixteen,
with a fiver in my pocket,
and my old dancing bag.
I went down to the ‘dilly
to check out the scene,
but I soon ended up upon
the old main drag.

Lincoln: It is all the same. Adjustment to the details. And no one, that’s the funny thing, no one can do anything about it. Like it’s the hand of God. You go to Dallas for all that. I go to Ford’s. I’m out diagonal on a too small bed across the street, you end up in that beautiful limousine and that hospital.

There ain’t much they can do for you, though. Cut your shirt open, put your head on a pillow. Let the bullet fall out. Whatever.

The rising up, I thought, that was… you know, in a way it was just what I expected, looking at yourself, at the violent thing that did not change you, but just sealed you as a President forever.

Kennedy: I felt it all in a dream, a long straight line, and then I was broken, and for a time I felt like there were monsters around me, grotesque people, looking down on me, or was it me, a nightmare, knowing I couldn’t be fixed. Then I found here peace. Not of the hillside, but of the things I left behind and the way people will remember me, in their souls, just like you almost.

Lincoln: I know, I know.

Kennedy: It was a good ride. I got my energy from the people. I’d shake hands. Sometimes, all the dirt, you know.

Lincoln: Yup. It is, exhilarating. You kept a great sense of humor about it, like a kid sometimes, and by that I mean no disrespect at all. I liked the way you’d nod at everyone. Just like I used to. They say, oh, what a hick, but really it’s a sign of nobility, and you got to put up with a lot of shit anyway. I’d nod at that Whitman, bright-eyed fellow, made me feel I was who they said I was, I mean in the good way, as President, and I’d bow back to the fellow. Better than getting shot at, I’ll tell you.

“How are you,” I love the way you’d say that. So warm, so gracious.

Kennedy: Your hand was swollen, when you arrived. You looked more like me then.

Lincoln: Ha ha, that’s sweet of you.

MacGowan: I’ve been loving you a long time…

Kennedy: I like the music here, Mr. President.
[both chuckle]

Lincoln: They chided me over Antietam, Lamon playing the banjo for me, but as I’ve said, I like the merriment. Otherwise…

Kennedy: Yes, you’d want to hang yourself. I felt that way too, often enough.

But I suppose, life is the banjo, Mr. President.

Lincoln: That’s true, too. I guess I had that sense. I always loved animals. A pig stuck, a bird fallen, a cat going about its business. You learn a lot that way.

But I know, we both loved a girl at one point. Well, you know how it goes.

Kennedy: Yes, I do. It kind of changes your whole life. We really did though.

Lincoln: It does, it does. It hurt a lot, and I never forgot.

MacGowan: That’s good. Mind if I use that? Hch, hch, hchh…
[lights a cigarette]

Still there’s a light I hold before me,
and you’re the measure of my dreams

Lincoln: I guess that’s when I became a poet.

Kennedy: I, uh, don’t know, exactly what I became, but I know what you mean.

Lincoln: You do what you can do.

MacGowan: I’ve not come up with any new material for a while, at least they say so.

The Cadillacs stood by the house
and the Yanks they were within
and the tinker boys hissed advice
hot wire her with a pin.
We turned and shook while we had a look…

Lincoln: You were very good about the poetry. You always used that…Mr. Nixon and I are not rivers frozen in time…That was good. I still get a chuckle over that. Nixon…

Ah, but he’s one of us, almost. Well, there are a few “almosts.” Duds, really.

Kennedy: Yes.

Lincoln: But in the end, it’s you and I. Not even Washington. We’re the amalgam. We’re the blood flow. History is funny stuff, I suppose.

Kennedy: I’d want people to know, that in the end it’s all an illusion. Like it depends on what kind of dream you want to have. Then you make it so.

Lincoln: That’s the most dignified way to go about it.

Kennedy: And are we here, too, for a reason? What do we do know?

Lincoln: Well, I don’t know. I guess part of it is watching. Seeing if there’s anyone bright down there, then matching them up with people who’ll help them.

Kennedy: Like Bobby.

Lincoln: Sure. He’ll take it hard, but he’s the perfect man for it, I think. We made him tough, appropriately, and not a conniver. He’s an honest type, like a good lawyer should be. He’ll feel it. Then he’ll read the Greeks, I suspect.

He’ll get his own funeral train one day, sadly enough. Before his time.

Kennedy: [silence]

Lincoln: We know these things up here, or mid here, or down here, wherever it is, the places where we dream in a deeper way.

But take comfort. There’s always the right person for a job. Take Jessie Curry, chief of Dallas Police. Could you find a better guy to stomach all that? It’s all a surprise.

History appoints its men. Each to fulfill his role. And what can you do but be as dignified as you can, I suppose. Is that the way I always looked at it? I don’t know, not anymore, but I think that speaks of the ones who live on, if you will, that they were dignified, given whatever situation.

I mean, we all can be stupid. That’s just human nature.

MacGowan: Don’t know what you’re talking about. Where’s Ronny Drew?

A hungry feelin’
came over me stealing,
and the mice were squealing’
in my prison cell.
And the auld triangle
went jingle bloody jangle,
all along the banks
of the Royal Canal

Lincoln: Do you think anyone could ever really try to be a nobody? I thought of that sometimes. But you didn’t have that chance. I could have slipped into nowhere pretty fast, quite a few times.

What do you make of that? You’re here now. You know about such things.

Kennedy: Well, I could have slipped, just lost, failed. That’s all, I suppose. But I was good, and I kept winning.

Lincoln: Saw that. I saw that. West Virginia. I think that’s near where I was from originally.

Is that a fault or a strength? Now that I think about it–what matters is that you’re real. Then you just stop feeling awkward about yourself, even if you are, as was I, an emotional cripple sometimes.

Kennedy: I was a cripple too.

Lincoln: You really let in that great sense of tragedy. That was a great gift to the nation. A greater tragedy, or better fitting, than what happened at Gettysburg. But you said your own words to make your own loss so well understood. No one needed to say anything.

The people said it themselves. They cried. They cried and cried. Then the bagpipes played.

Kennedy: I’m not so sure people always give a shit.

Lincoln: Well, that’s how it always is when you present a new truth. Some people try to get it, and can hear it, but because it’s the world, and you’re bringing them something out of the world, they have to reject it. It’s like a wave pattern on water, the heights of watery contention, the troughs of calm. And you feel it in yourself. Same damn thing. Pay it little mind.

Kennedy: Polling would confirm your sentiments.

Lincoln: I like how you handle the press. These press conferences reminded me of my baths in public opinion.

Kennedy: They’ll still say whatever the hell they want to.

Lincoln: Well, well… I got a kick out of what they wrote about my few words up there at the great battlefield. But spiritual work happens in spiritual time. And it must be done. And if you think about it, politics is so deeply flawed if you think it can really allow itself to be part of the greater work. Better to leave it to lesser men with their egos and their love of dealings. The bigger matter is in the changes, like how the whole system of democracy came about. Democracy has to happen in our minds first, the imagining of a truth we seem to collectively know already.

The thing is in the lining up, that spooky stuff, bringing it out into the real world, to not be distracted by all the material things we obsess over in our political lives–the pork barrel, the moving of the state capitol to Springfield. That’s all a children’s game, practice for when we’re called upon to be adults.

That’s the sense of humor. You roll with the punches, but deep down you’re really doing something, even if no one is going to even begin to understand it. Almost better that way.

They’ll all jump in on one side, as they see it, on one side of the worldly aspect of it, with the greatest zeal and fervor. Abolition, Pro-Slavery. The crazies pick up like it’s their own selves, such that the war came.

Well, I hate to say it, but that’s never really what it was about. It was about something far deeper, and even I cannot explain it, not even. I was just doing my job as a politician, an instructor. A House Divided–that was the closest I ever came. I knew I could not be divided against myself, and I figured that the same applied to the nation.

And I was human too. I got pulled into it myself, the animosity, the self-righteousness… much as I tried not to. And then we had the war to pursue. Well, they started it. Once it starts, you can’t go back, and I had to see it all out to the end.

But, whatever I said or tried to accomplish, or the way I thought about it all, it all came out of a very deep and personal struggle. I decided I needed to have faith. And when I got the melancholy, or I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say before a crowd of people, well, my deeper mind was telling me something. I had to align myself with all the things that come from the Scriptures. You know what I mean? And the only thing I could do then, the final self-evident thing, was to apply it.

So perhaps I was a little over-zealous, but I don’t regret that larger sense.

Kennedy: So what were your faults on earth? I cannot think of many, to be honest with you. Compared to some of us… [flashing famous smile]

Lincoln: Well, thank you kindly, but I was born a poor boy, one who wanted to read books and write things. My faults were in my ambition. I was a lawyer, even. Not that I am ashamed of that, but just some of the deals I might have made. But I was not spiritual enough, until I began my path to the Presidency. Still, it’s hard to climb to the top of the pyramid and look out in all directions at the same time.

We all have our faults. Maybe we should not be un-proud of them, in the end.

But you didn’t have a choice, really. You were obliged from birth to be ambitious, and you took well to it. And you were kind to people.

Kennedy: Lawyers are necessary, if you want to accomplish anything in the world.

Lincoln: Maybe so. But I felt that need to have those portraits taken, so that inner ghostly thing might come across, so that they could see, bumpkin that I am, or was, that I wasn’t an idiot, nor was I evil. Just like you always came across, I think, with your real good spirit and your humor.

“I’ll put it on in the White House on Monday; if you come up there you’ll have a chance to see it then.” That cowboy hat. I was more of a hat man myself, but then I don’t have your hair. But you can’t blame a man for playing the politics game. You brought a lot of light to it.

Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. President. Part of my comedy was physical after all.

Lincoln: Yes, I can see that. I move slower than you do.

But there are reasons why I don’t blame that man over there. [gesturing to MacGowan pouring himself some red wine from a brown paper bag into a cup] He’s found an access to the murmurings from the deeper reality. If you don’t believe in it, you’re never going to leave behind or say anything that will be valuable in the long run. You need courage to go find it.

I used to not approve so much of drinkers, but they are kind people, often, as if they had a gift.

MacGowan: Some of us have the ability to see ghosts… Hch, hch, ch, ch, hch… Cheers.

Kennedy: It is all a damn prison anyway, but you make the best of it, and then, right as you get the hang of it, boom. Why is it that way… Life is unfair. Some enjoy perfect health, some less so.

But viewed from the long lens of history… [voice rising, about to extend an arm, chin raised]
I almost feel like making a speech.

Lincoln: That’s good reflexes.

Goddamn. I get so sad sometimes, without you guys. Our most triumphant hours, and there we are, getting shot.
[turning away]

Funny how we all get old.

We’re all bound to fail at everything. You have to fail. And then, when you have no other choice, you turn to something. Not some shallow thing, not another person’s version of a story, not even necessarily any tradition, but something, barely definable, you’ve tested out in your deeper mind, something higher.

I wished it had all been not violent so suddenly, as the pace of the times seemed to require.

I guess you could be passive, and just absorb it all, writing your comments, if you could live forever. But alas we don’t.
[turns back]

When that girl died, and they put her in the ground, and then it was raining and raining, I couldn’t take it anymore. A part of me withered up, never to be alive again. And I didn’t think I would, but I made it through that, as if was some kind of training, for something.

I mean, I have to qualify that with being out here, with the fact that what we must do consciously on Earth is ego. A part of me withered up, that sounds now like something a fool biographer would write. That’s the good of being up here.

But I still think about her… all the time, really, if you were to look at it in a way…

Jack, do you think that death makes us? Makes us the great men in the collection of minds, whereas if we died of natural old age, had faded into irrelevance, old statuary, no longer a power, no longer the significant voice of the time, what we had done would have then seemed an ordinary business? But we had died as some people, at least, were listening to us. You and I are alike in that…

Kennedy: But you had been reelected.

Lincoln: Damn fluke… But it’s true.

The odds didn’t look so good for you, with your stance there on the moral issue, but there you were, working those Southern States–didn’t they all end up in Texas, those fine Confederates–and with the same uncertainty, and facing the same hatred, doing pretty well. You had that Presidential quality about you. I had a Brooks Brother’s long coat covering my sorry ass. Oh, man, they had all the reason in the world to hate me, to call me tyrant and worse things…

But you were doing pretty well. I was waiting for your Second Inaugural, I think. But I guess, you know, maybe they didn’t deserve it. They can’t always receive our wisdom, little birds that they are with their mouths up reached. You feed ’em what you can.

MacGowan: [aside] There’s that story, you know, Vishnu builds this great, like, almighty palace, thinking he’s, like, the greatest, that this will be the most fantastic place, like, with great parties and great music, the finest chicks, good wine, a great house band, The Roots, probably, and, like the highest of wisdom, and fucking books and learning, I mean, to go along with all that. But, like, he notices he, even he himself, notices that he can’t finish it, that he keeps wanting more. This goddamn palace is never quite finished. And then a greater God, even higher above him, comes down, shows up one day, and then, look out, there are all these fucking ants, fucking thousands of them, millions of them, marching in perfect order, in through the front door. Like it was their place or something! Hchh hchh hchh… And Vishnu says, like, what the fuck, and whoever the greater God is, says, well, my friend, each one of those ants once was a god king emperor building his own fucking palace, thinking it was something, some fantastic kingdom all measured to fucking perfection… Hchh, hchh, hchh… And, like, each one comes from another planet, another universe, another dimension, as the fucking Mahabarata tells you, it’s all a mud puddle, somewhere in London, in the middle of nowhere. So there’s fucking Vishnu looking down at all these ants coming in the front door of his palace… Hch, hch, hch…

So you know, you just fucking know, whatever it is, it’s all bullshit anyway.

London, you’re a lady,
you’re streets are paved with gold…

Lincoln: I think what happens to us… Well, it’s like we get broken up, into some pieces, and that a piece goes into a lot of folks, regular normal folk, so that it’s no longer the high and mighty who carry our fine thoughts and sentiments, not the congressmen, not the senators, but all the plain people, like those who good-heartedly line railroad tracks or come into the great Rotunda to file past you in a casket on a catafalque, or watch you go by on a caisson. It would have to be the regular people who carry such things like a truth or a flame, or something good and decent. That’s just math. You and I were just strange, being so pushed forward the way we were, the way we had to be. Our air of the presidential, that only happens at very strange times, Mr. Kennedy, wouldn’t you agree?

MacGowan: I mean, that’s the thing, that someone would say something and actually mean it, you know…
[getting snuffly]

That someone would actually give a shit, and like, the things they said would be like, like Irish music, hits you in the gut, means something, is said with all the emotional stuff, just like the things that people have always done, drinking, fucking and fighting, but, like applied, as it always is, to something deeply intellectual, not fucking faking it, but true, just like it took the black man to play the blues. They wouldn’t be, like, playing fucking blues out of a fucking teleprompter, not giving a shit like a bunch of fucking robots. Their fucking guitars were like barely in tune, covered with cotton picking fucking railroad dust, and they knew the secret, that no one really gave a shit, but that because each fucking person realized that no one else gave a shit about them, then they could fucking share this, like, guilty secret of liking this liberating music…But it took, like, Muddy Waters, some guy who knew no one gave a shit… And that’s blues, that’s rock n roll, that’s Irish music, African music, whatever you want to call it. Music, raw, played by people, not by computers or some fucking rating system, but by the heart….

Lincoln: The basic matter before us all is that the personal judging of people is necessarily arbitrary and insensitive. That’s why we have to think of mystical things, unions and the like.

Behind the law, and its equality, there is brotherly love, and that applies to women too, strange creatures that they are, who give birth to us, love us…

That’s what we all need. That’s what I need, even here. Love, that is all.

Kennedy: Well, I can’t say that as a man I ever had much problem with the, ah, democracy of women…

Lincoln: You old hound dog… I like how they call it my bedroom.

Kennedy: I had more time than you, Mr. President. I didn’t have to go listen to the tapping of the telegraph at night.

Lincoln: Well, at least then I could feel I was doing something, not just sitting around waiting, unable to do a damn thing…

When we get up here, we see the great equality of all people and all things. Less is there of the difference. More how odd the whole thing gets, why sides must be taken, wars fought, hearts broken, for details, over details, small insignificant things, when all along, we all loved each other, God’s gentle creatures who are made to lie down in green pastures and by calm waters. Why all the bloodletting?

Kennedy: I liked to put that record on at night. “Each evening from December to December… Camelot.”

Lincoln: And I like that fellow’s songs, the one who sees us over there… There’s something he’s achieved too, no less, well… this is heaven, so allow the possibility… than us. In attitude, at least. Because he doesn’t care what we think. He just plays his music, transcribes his songs, and stays free.

MacGowan: In the summer in Siam,
And the mist will have rainbows…

That was before the tour in Japan, when they kicked me out, that was when I came up with that. I had a glimpse… And they all said, oh it’s just fucking idiot MacGowan and his fucking drugs… Like, who could really come up with a new way of, like, seeing reality, the deeper spiritual stuff… Who could fucking see that, and then, like, bring it back so that other people could get it?

What the hey. That’s why I became a musician.