The Big Brick Review

Building on the narrative of our lives...one brick at a time.


I Am Stretched On Your Grave/Sinéad O'Connor

by Michael Allen Potter

WHEN ENSIGN RECORDS released Sinéad O’Connor’s second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, I was a twenty-year-old Ivy League dropout back in my hometown, completely unsure about the trajectory of my own sexuality. Conspicuously straight-edge all through military school, I was hell-bent on making up for lost time on a fake ID after I lost a new friend to an old suspension bridge during my freshman year in Ithaca. I withdrew from Cornell University by phone, thinking, at the time, that it was a very punk-rock maneuver, a rejection of everything I was expected to become by the strangers I lived with. As the sole customer of an Italian bartender after hours at the only gay bar in said hometown, I watched him rinse highball glasses and re-shelve bottles of Tanqueray and Jack Daniel’s, all the while singing along to the stereo blasting as if the bar were still packed with the artists and addicts as it was before last call (4AM in New York). I shouted, “Hey, Joe!” after I recognized the purloined Public Enemy tattoo of track #2 flex the plate-glass of the front windows, but he didn’t hear me, so I leaned across the bar and kissed him unexpectedly, in a flash of smoke and stubble. Taken off guard, he smiled and mouthed the rest of the incantatory words to “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” his attentions inescapable, his intentions unmistakable. His performance, though, was one of the most memorable seductions of my life as he finally unlocked words which had been previously been indecipherable underneath O’Connor’s brogue and distinctive phrasing. “If your hands were in mine/I’d be sure we’d not sever,” they sang and, just after (ex-Waterboys) Steve Wickham’s chainsaw coda, he was finished with his work and waving me into the back room where we did line after line of cocaine with a tightly-rolled hundred-dollar note. We (stumbled) to his apartment (in the early-morning shadow of The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) and got far too high before we ever got to any of the good stuff. I left him sleeping and ended up across town (on automatic pilot) at The Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, with my arms draped across the back of a pew like a boxer up against the ropes, drugs and blood running from my nostrils like I might never get back into the ring. The Mass sounded like it was being conducted in Latin, but there were no interpreters on the altar. The last time I had been in this particular church was for a memorial for the sister of a friend who died on Pan Am Flight 103, which was bombed out of the sky, killing all 259 passengers and crew and another 11 on the ground. “The priest and the friars/Approach me in dread,” but I managed to leave the church before they could catch me.

Twenty-five years later, I am an expert at loss and as outspokenly queer and sober as O’Connor, herself, but surprised, as well (as a devout bibliophile), to discover that the lyrics to this song are actually the English translation of an 18th-century Gaelic poem, Táim mé Sínte ar do Thuama (and that it’s subsequently been covered by the likes of Dead Can Dance and Johnny Hollow).

–From 101 Songs About My Life So Far (Kartografisk Utgaver, 2016).

Michael Allen Potter is a graduate of The Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa, author of The Last Invisible Continent, and founder of The Hydroelectric Press.

"I Am Stretched On Your Grave" photo courtesy of YouTube

 

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