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Old Sins Cast Long Shadows (line revisions)


dedalus
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The truth, Mam’selle is generally cruel.

Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot

 

 

I hear stonebreakers in my mind,

their hammers pounding,

rhymithic, ceaseless,

loudly sounding.

 

Dead children do not give us dreams,

they give us nightmares instead.

 

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 trench 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.

 

 

* attributed to Barbara Tuchman, author of The Guns of August.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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A significant piece delivered in your usual inimitable style.

 

We're hearing much about 1914, the horrors suffered by ordinary men at war, the gross inequalities that scarred the lives of our ancestors and how today's world is unrecognizable from a century ago. But is it?

Those kings and princes who led the services in Belgium and Britain this August were descendants of the same kings and princes our great-granddads were conned into laying down their lives for a century ago. They're still in their palaces.

Those prime ministers and presidents who mouthed platitudes about young men nobly sacrificing themselves to change the world, are the ones who can't wait to sacrifice young men in futile wars today.

We're hearing that London currently has more millionaires than any other city in the world. Which was the case in 1914.Sadly, the rich are also leaving the rest behind at a rate not seen since the 19th century.

The saying "the more things change, the more things stay the same", is as close as we are likely to get to a true evaluation of life.

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David W. Parsley

Hi Brendan, ref. what Geoff just said: I'll second that. All of it. Nicely tied in with historical figures like Maud Gonne, paramour of more than one illustrious writer. Heart-stopping image in all the chat and fact stating: the jewels of his eyes...

 

Well Done,

- Dave

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