Friday Poem

What of the animal that kills itself,
How long may it reign?
— Anon

Trouble Spot: General Post Office, 1986

Here, father, is this where it started?
Here we became strangers to each other?
Was it here?

You thought most of what we said was nonsense –
Even when we agreed with you:
Inheritors of the event who never knew the smell
Of gunpowder, or of terror,
Who never fired a shot in anger,
Worse yet,
Never stood up to one . . .

We retreated from you into the Pale of Irish;
That was our familiar terre guerre,
And the Ulsterman
In you
Could not follow our tracks
Or tame our barbarism –
Spenser’s civilitie
Had beguiled you.

We took after our mother’s tribe:
The high-blown ways of Munster;
You were the recalcitrant old badger
Run to ground by howling spaniels.

In later years, we tried again;
You learned to be charitable,
But we still had to tread carefully;
Your intelligence and sense of justice
Never practised deception;
I am the same age as the state
And neither turned out as you wished . . .

In this place, father, you are the unknown
Youth who went missing –
Neglect and awkwardness hide the key from my mind –
But I hear now the Northern accent
Of the elder man I loved with hard devotion:
Do you remember the rebuke you delivered
Before it became fashionable?
You spoke thus:

I see no cause for rejoicing
That Irishmen once again
Are killing other Irishmen
On the streets of Belfast.
by Máire Mhac an tSaoi
from The Miraculous Parish / An Paróiste Míorúilteach
O'Brien Press / Cló Iar-Chonnacht, Dublin, 2011
© Translation: 2011, Louis de Paor