An Ulsterman in England remembers, 1969


Here at a distance, rocked by hopes and fears
with each convulsion of that fevered state,
the chafing thoughts attract, in sudden spate,
neglected shadows from my boyhood years:
the Crossley tenders caged and roofed with wire,
the crouching Black and Tans, the Lewis gun,
the dead lad in the entry; one by one
the Catholic public houses set on fire;
the anxious curfew of the summer night,
the thoroughfares deserted, at a door
three figures standing, till the tender’s roar,
approaching closer, drives them out of sight;
and on the broad roof of the County Gaol
the singing prisoners brief freedom take
to keep an angry neighbourhood awake
with rattled plate and pot and metal pail;
below my bedroom window, bullet-spark
along the kerb, the beat of rapid feet
of the lone sniper, clipping up the street,
soon lost, the gas lamps shattered, in the dark;
and on the paved edge of our cinder-field,
intent till dusk upon the game, I ran
against a briskly striding, tall young man,
and glimpsed the rifle he thought well concealed.
At Auschwitz, Dallas, I felt no surprise
when violence, across the world’s wide screen,
declared the age imperilled: I had seen
the future in that gunman’s frightened eyes.