AN IRISH PEACEKEEPER ON THE COAST ROAD DRIVING SOUTH FROM LEBANON TO ISRAEL
‘What are these years if not an instant in eternity?
This earthly life and all therein is but a dream
by the side of the awakening we call by death and terror.
A dream, yet all we see and do therein
endures with God’s enduring.’
Eyes closed and I’m there
cruising along the coast road
in the back of a white soft-topped U.N. jeep,
rifle at my knee, sun warming my face,
burning my outstretched arm
in the open window.
Date-palms shoot past, their curved fronds
breaking the blue sky, the historic sea
on my right shoulder.
Salt air fills my lungs in place of dirt and dust,
the border’s getting closer;
this place is still beautiful.
I know there are palm trees like these
all over the South,
a few cedar groves too in the Chouf Mountains,
on Mount Lebanon itself
though not as many as there once was
when their numbers shaded the ancient Bedouin
roaming the Levant on well worn caravan routes
through Sidon and Tyre to the gates of Jerusalem,
resting sometimes in the great Bekaa Valley,
shepherds grazing their flocks.
This is the land of the Canaanites,
the Phoenicians who traded from these beaches and ports
and I know it can never be as it was,
Alexander’s siege of Beirut can still be heard
in the tracks of a tank that replaced the chariot,
the bullet that replaced the arrow,
the rise and fall of empires.
These are the Holy Lands of books, of Scripture and Sura,
the hills where crusaders marched and Islam stood its ground,
where great armies clashed while vultures circled overhead
and craters mark horizons to Judea.
I come in peace – not victorious or triumphant,
no palms will be thrown under my feet
when I enter the City of David.
I open my eyes
and it’s twenty years later.
Michael J. Whelan
Published in InTallaght Magazine , Edition No. 60, October 2014
Photos: (c)Michael J. Whelan c.1994 – (1) Jerusalem – Israel & (2) the Triumphal Arch at the Great Hippodrome for chariot racing in Tyre, Lebanon,