Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wounds

Michael Longley is a poet originally from Northern Ireland.  Born in the same place, in the the same, as a certain Mr Seamus Heaney his poetry has largely been in the shadow of Heaney's.  And that's kind of a problem with poetry: so much of it is no good, so people tend to stick to the poets they have heard of, a name that they recognise and trust.  This poem, for me anyway, is a powerful tribute to not just the memory of his father but also to the innocents lost in wars before.  We always hear of the young boys shipped off oblivious to WW1; but the boy at the end of the poem is walking into the living room of presumably a neighbour.  Losing his innocence in a war fought on his streets, in people's living rooms, against his own people.  It's an unbelievably powerful poem; so even if you've never heard of Michael Longley...just trust me on this one ;)
 
 
 
* Wounds *
 
Here are two pictures from my father's head -
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with 'Fuck the Pope!'
'No Surrender!': a boy about to die,
Screaming 'Give 'em one for the Shankill!'
'Wilder than Gurkhas' were my father's words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty, 
He said - lead traces flaring till they hurt -
'I am dying for King and Country, slowly.'
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.
 
Now, with military honours of a kind,
With his badges, his medals like rainbows,
His spinning compass, I bury beside him
Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone.
A packet of Woodbines I throw in, 
A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Paralysed as heavy guns put out
The night-light in a nursery for ever;
Also a bus-conductor's uniform -
He collapsed beside his carpet-slippers
Without a murmur, shot through the head
By a shivering boy who wandered in 
Before they could turn the television down
Or tidy away the supper dishes.
To the children, to a bewildered wife,
I think 'Sorry Missus' was what he said.
 
 
M I C H A E L  L O N G L E Y
 
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