Sunday, October 05, 2014

503. Old Sins Cast Long Shadows

I hear stonebreakers in my mind,
their hammers pounding,
rhymithic, ceaseless,
loudly sounding.

Dead children do not give us dreams,
they give us nightmares.

After 20,000 – 25,000 days
I am sitting in a pub in Dublin
when the Squeaker walks in, grins enormously,
then seats himself beside me.
I’d buy you a pint, says I,
if I had the money. Feck that, says he,
ye won’t be leaving here sober!

And of new light then was a crack,
with the young men struggling at the door,
the old men holding it back.

After Chamberlain’s Munich fiasco
(J’aime Berlin hissed the colluding French)
young Jimmy upped stakes, headed for the UK
where the idiot joined the RAF,
explaining, in his irritating, slow and reasonable way,
that Ireland didn’t possess an air force,
and should Britain fall we’d be next.
Nobody at the time believed him.

Ah, the lemons of Lebanon,
the drowned bodies of Cyprus:
where are the jewels that were his eyes?

With friends, I joined the army in 1914
at the behest of Sir John Redmond,
who told us the defence of Belgium
would lead to the freedom of Ireland.

I remember the boat to Boulogne
with sick all over the decks,
and the sergeant-major laughing,
handing around pints.

The shells came falling over the Front,
puffed and puling, rising up in layers,
and in that early and insane six months, a year,
all loyal soldiers were promised exemption, a redemption,
with death the only answer to our thoughts and prayers.

Fuck the British Army, thought the Irish lads,
(employing the language of the time),
What the hell have we got ourselves into?

My younger brother was shot in 1916
in Dublin, while I was still in France,
and on July 1st came the Somme
and so I heaved myself up and walked over,
with 70-80 lbs. of ridiculous equipment
and I thought, now, now, ye fuckin Huns,
just finish me off. They finished off 20,000 of us
on that first day alone, but they missed me.

I’ll never, I think, forgive them for that, because I had to
go back to Dublin and face my parents,
absorb the cold looks of school and childhood friends
in my stained and dusty khaki uniform,
the uniform of the alien, the enemy of Ireland.

The war ended.
They all end and then the next one begins.
I found myself doing bits for Ireland
under a man called Michael Collins.
To hell, so, with little Belgium.

The Depression next came down upon us
unfolding like a load of smothering blankets,
made worse by an incompetent government.
I had a job by then with the gas company
who were paying me less and less,
when I met young Eileen O’Connor,
and she put the lift back into my walk
and the original twinkle back in my eye.
Ah, it was grand and glorious!
I’d never been the same since the goddam feckin war
but now I was coming back to life.

Young Jimmy shot down three German bombers
and so they gave him one of the medals
they occasionally sling over to the Irish: NINA was
one of the signs of the times – No Irish Need Apply -
all over jobs and rooming houses, but not the RAF.
In time Jimmy got quite good, causing havoc among the enemy,
and so he got the real medals and a promotion.
He also found a shy but lovely English girlfriend.

My Daddy was doing poorly, and since I was the eldest,
I was told to ake care of Aunt Gertrude, his elder sister.
Gertude had been a political disaster since 1893,
joining Hyde’s Gaelic League and then Sinn Fein,
so now I was faced with a bing- bang –bong
of threat and apparition, then the rapid
appearance of private and public disaster.

Even in Dublin, this was simply not on.
Not just then, but even today.
I thought of strangling her in her bed,
but she died before plans were complete.
Still, I could tell you stories …

She was a friend of Maud Gonne,
and of that interesting feminist vegetarian bloke,
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington,
who got shot by Bowen-Coulter in 1916,
later adjuged insane
(the shooter not the shootee)
and she was an outspoken bosom companion
of all the peculiar people of the period,

but I perceive I lack the time,
and I know I lack the money:
since I am lately bereft of wife and family,
even any form of human sympathy,
I shall regress to the underground tunnels
of aggressive feral youth.

A happy man has no past, I think,
an unhappy man has nothing else.

Hello, Johnny, how are you?
Ten dollars now
or I’ll smash your face.
The tens move up into hundreds,
thousands even. It’s really quite simple.

Eileen and the kids had died in a fire:
only Jimmy, the eldest, survived.

All history grows silent, literature dumb, science crippled,
all thought and speculation comes to a standstill.

You live on, so you do,
nobody knows where the years go.

On a silent autumn day,
high above the Channel and the fields of Kent,
a random single round hits home,
and from the heights comes a plume of smoke
and the sudden rush of a falling plane,
no parachute, only a descending spiral,
homing, inevitably, towards the sea,
and then comes a great splash
and a sudden white plume of waves.
O Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.