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Today Monday 31th July 2017 is the centenary of the death of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge who died in Flanders during the First World War 1917, it is also the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the 3rd Battle of Ypres in which he was killed or ‘Passchendaele’ as it was known.  Yesterday I attended in uniform the ‘Poetry Reading and Wreath Laying Ceremony with Gerald Dawe – Professor of English and Fellow of Trinity College Dublin in the National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge, Dublin.’ It was a special event organised by the Inchicore Ledwidge Society to honour the Irish soldier-poet Francis Ledwidge.

Being a poet and member of the Irish Defence Forces (a soldier poet) it was important for me to attend and remember Francis Ledwidge 

 

Michael J. Whelan at the grave of Irish Poet Francis Ledwidge – killed In Action WW1. Photo (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

This is a poem I wrote some time ago after a visit to Gallipoli where he fought and later to his grave in Flanders, Belgium.

 

 

SPARROWS SING


(For Francis Ledwidge, 

Gallipoli -2011)

 

I cross the world

in search of you,

to walk where you walked,

dream where you dreamed,

same ground – different dawn.

 

No trenches now only peace.

Where you wrote

I sit to read your poems.

Sparrows sing above these quiet hills

though they didn’t for you.

 

In the depths of despair you sang

of little fields and robins remembered.

Nature brings you back to life

and I breathe it in,

find you in the landscapes of your words.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

 

Michael J. Whelan with Professor Gerald Dawe at the ‘Poetry and Wreath Laying Ceremony’ in honour of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge on the centenary of his death in Flanders during the Great War 1917. (Irish War Memorial Gardens 30th July 2017) Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

 

 

Professor Gerald Dawe addresses the audience at the ‘Poetry and Wreath Laying Ceremony’ event to mark the Centenary of the death of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge during World War One (Irish War Memorial, 30th July 2017) Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

Kosovo Sky 2001 (c)Michael J. Whelan

Nectar of War

The ground could feel them,
returning to nests with the arsenals
of their colonies,
rotors vibrating the air
on convoys of black silhouettes
zipping by,
dozens of helicopters
swarming overhead
like eager wasps,
tail-booms jutting out
like giant stings
with artillery pieces,
heavy mortars and vehicles
slung beneath their painted bodies
like sacs full of the nectar of war.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

MASS-GRAVE near Prizren, Kosovo-2001. (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

Old Man’s Tears

Kosovo

 

Wandering through ashes and misery
of memories daily desired,
landscapes of loving existence entwined
to a day of infamy fired.
Why graves in back garden we enquired
through interpreter we witnessed tragedy,
for old man’s tears trapped on beard
told a story of brutal savagery.
Burnt shell of home – on hurting ground,
daughters and wives ravaged within sight of sons.
All put to death by order of state
in front of old eyes,
no more to sire ungrateful children.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

Young boys near village Mass-grave, Kosovo 2001, Photo – (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

Children of the War

(Peacekeeping in Kosovo)

 

Once, on the outskirts of a future memory,
we stopped our convoy
on a narrow road
near a fallen tree.
I was in the lead vehicle
bringing supplies to a forgotten village
the war had touched,
our first time on that ground.
The tree blocked the route
as if booby-trapped.

There was movement in the woods
as we pushed through,
we didn’t shoot.
It was good to see them,
we drove by and they came in to view
hands raised high- begging.
The ambush turned out
to be scared children
weary of uniforms,
we gave them chocolate
for their little victory.
There was nothing to fear
though they didn’t know it
when they saw us coming
and in the long run of things
their tactics worked –
their smiles keep me awake sometimes.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

 

Destroyed house – Kosovo 2001. (c)Michael J. Whelan

Deranged

(Kosovo, Winter 2001)

 

Cold day
Rain
Old woman
Damaged
Smelled
Ancient urine
Matted hair
Dirty clothes
Filthy skin
Living
In ruin
Burnt out shell
Hungry
Dying
Weeping
Gone mad
Charred remains
Her family
Inside home
Inside her
Murdered
Fearful
Of strangers
Would not be helped
Could not
Deranged.

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

Birds – (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

Days of Peace

There weren’t many birds
in the hills of South Lebanon
when I was a peacekeeper,
they were never a feature
of the historic landscape
that I can remember

except for the vultures
circling up high on summer thermals,
the smaller creatures had all been killed
by the time the spring had ended,
nothing to stir poetics in a future poet.
But there were times during days of peace
when villages came to life
with the call to prayers from ancient minarets
when the local people spoke
of a recent Barhah – a gift from God,

the moment when they personally encountered
a new born child and the Adhan was recited –
the first words a baby hears
(a call to prayers whispered into the left ear),
and I think now how abundant the skies must have been
before the crusades

and how many times since
a new born child
has encountered that same call to prayers.

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in the contemporary Irish poets’ feature in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

Engine of AVRO XIX – Michael J. Whelan

 

NOW AND THEN

(Baldonnel – home of Irish aviation)

 

Every year in the museum where I work,

the place where old aeroplanes long to fly,

blackbirds build nests

in the wheel wells of a Vampire Jet,

the engines of an Avro Anson.

It’s very difficult to prevent

but once they get in

my mission is to protect the chicks.

Sometimes we photograph them

from a safe distance – zoom lenses.

Sometimes they sing outside my office door,

their yellow bills and fine dark plumage gliding down

to perch upon the framed pictures of vintage aircraft

standing on top of tall display cases

full of plastic models.

Now and then I’m allowed to get close,

as if they appreciate my words of gratitude.

One morning a fledgling collided with my window,

got my heart racing, a tragedy for the parents,

new feathers blowing everywhere.

Now and then a sparrow hawk

flies into the hangar to prey

and I watch it in the rafters

where it has the best views of a historic collection

alive in my imagination,

no flesh, no blood, no vibration in their wings

but once they roamed the skies majestic.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Vintage Aircraft (Irish Air Corps Museum collection) – Michael J. Whelan

 

 

Published in The Galway Review on 27 June 2017, see https://thegalwayreview.com/2017/06/28/michael-j-whelan-now-and-then/