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Niamh & Me

Niamh and Me. Photo(c)Michael J. Whelan

 

The Reservoir

For Niamh

 

It was one of the few days we had off together,

we walked the full route of the waterworks,

chatting about our jobs, our kids,

we spoke of our parents, mine gone,

yours still involved though separated.

 

We were married a long time, but we were

only catching up with each other the way couples do,

a time out from the unnatural world, a couple of hours

just for me and for you when we plotted the future.

 

We examined the trees, the flowers, listened to the river

and the breeze, the heat was amazing, and the day was beautiful.

There was a sign on the fence warning us of Japanese Knotweed,

we had no idea what it was but we found some near the wire,

we were careful not to bring it home on our clothes

to infest our garden.

 

You spotted a faun in the distance,

we stopped and watched for a while.

Hairy caterpillars raced across our path on the hot surface,

I hadn’t seen one in years, so you continued to point them

out as we climbed slowly towards the upper reservoir,

crossed the dam onto the far side of the water

and into the woods on the side of the valley. We were high up,

 

and I think I held your hand for a few moments then,

or maybe you held mine, it doesn’t really matter –

it was special holding a piece of you there.

I wasn’t taking in what you were saying part of the time

or what was passing me by in the landscape,

I was just looking at you, just looking at you

and remembering all the very first times we were together,

 

the first time I really felt part of the world, of all this nature.

You were a seed bursting open in my heart, you still are.

It was your idea for us to walk the upper reservoir,

for both of us to stand on top of the dam and see the colours.

 

(c)Michael J. Whelan

For our 22nd Wedding Anniversary

 

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Photo  Tibnin bridge, Lebanon 1985 | Captpaulf | Flickr

 

TIBNINE BRIDGE

 

 

Empty shells on the ground

on a bridge

at a crossroads.

 

Shell of a post

on a bridge

at a crossroads.

 

Echoes of soldiers who died

at the hands of comrade

on a bridge

at a crossroads,

 

still

 

resonates in Ireland.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

(In October 1982 three Irish

Peacekeepers were murdered

by a fourth member of their isolated

post in South Lebanon)

 

 

See also Ruairi De Barra’s piece below on Paper Never Refused Ink

see link here  – https://paperneverrefusedink.com/2018/10/20/748/

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45

 

Why, when I have taken off my uniform

and examine the canvas – a river scene,

in the detail of things,

does my story pick out

the turpentine in the rushes?

Why does the fringe of furry trees

against a blue sky

conceal an army,

the grave of a village?

I would go there

but it’s cold in the shadows

and a cruised-up submarine

lurks beneath the surface.

 

You have led the way

for all the horrible injustices,

the dark that humans

keep in their hearts

but decency tries to keep at bay

are dripping through the cracks

that you have made to smell of incense.

Petrol will catch fire in water and in the air,

it’s the 21st Century for fuck sake

and all the bridges are burning.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

(c)Michael J. Whelan

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GALLIPOLI

 

Today I stood above the Aegean Sea

listening for echoes I could not hear.

The silent tempo of the ground

resonates still on unnatural landscapes.

The zig-zag lines where dead men toil

dug deep into blood smeared soil,

buried now with their bones

on beaches and gullies where once

they fought the Turk,

stormed the shores and hills as if thrown

against the wind by Agamemnon himself.

 

The silence bade me look towards Troy

across the Straits from Helles.

I still could hear no voice, nor thunder in the sky

except the launching waves pushing ancient

pebbles up the beach to rest,

where once they drowned the hearts of men.

 

Then behind me I could feel it,

the noise of peace and echoes of war

in a thousand monuments to the dead,

stretched out in marching order.

 

And there, watching me my shadow

took on the specter of a ghost and spoke,

 

‘Like Hector I was the defender

brave and virtuous – but of Irish stock,

I am the soldier my country forsook.’

 

And in response I said

      I have come at last to pay my respects,

I have come to take you home!

 

Michael J. Whelan

25th April is the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings of 1915, during the Great War

V- Beach Cemetery Gallipol, where many Irishmen rest: Michael J. Whelan 2011

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So I haven’t posted anything here for a while as I have been really busy with a few projects which are coming along nicely. The Irish Air Corps Museum projects have been moving along progressively and the collecting, listing and transferal of historical documents in to the Air Corps Museum collection in the Military Archives of Ireland is fantastic, the volunteers are doing great work. Also I have been collecting oral history recordings from veterans and serving personnel for the Military Archives Oral History Programme with a total now of 207 recorded and deposited over the last two and half years (aprx 400 hours) with a lot of associated artefacts and documents.

I have also been writing poetry for the next book, which is due out in October this year, more news to follow on this.

Take care all,

 

Michael

Just an update

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Irish Peacekeeper - Lebanon 1990s. Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan

Irish Peacekeeper – Lebanon 1990s. Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

IN THE PERIPHERY

 

Irish United Nations area of peacekeeping operations during Israeli Lebanese wars, 1990s

 

SHELL WARNING! SHELL WARNING! SHELL WARNING!

over the tannoy, it’s 4.30 in the morning,

I can feel the distant rumble already,

we shake the night fever from our heads,

an orchestra of activity, grab our weapons, flak-jackets, helmets,

sling identity discs around our necks, half dressed

we shuffle like the waking dead towards the bomb shelters.

 

I can feel her heart beating. I am so alive right now, can sense the fruit bats

finding their way back into the bowels of the Crusader’s castle,

the sound of every cricket in the wadi is about me, I picture the delicate cobweb

harp strings in the corner of my bunk, smell eucalyptus on the air.

I know the history of each leaf falling from the Cedar tree, the black faced men

in darkened rooms planning war, the pawns who perish in their violence

and I wonder what my parents are doing at this very moment,

what time it might be at home if an officer arrives to their door.

 

The stars are drawing my eyes, the moon vibrates in the periphery as I rush.

It’s not raining but a raindrop touches my eyelid, runs down my face.

I’m thinking now about her lips, the perfume of her wrists.

There is enough time to gather up the local civilians and so we go,

under flashing lights and blue flags our troops escort them to the shelters,

soldiers mix with refugees, one or two carry children on their shoulders,

another wraps an infant in her own body armour.

 

Yesterday the Resistance attacked the compounds on the hilltops using the mist for cover,

tank fire and mortars chased them back through the villages.

This morning is the Occupier’s reprisal, but when the dawn comes

these few innocent’s will not be seen, they are safe, we will keep them

beneath the overcrowded sandbags. At times the screaming child rattles my brain,

makes me want to climb back out for peace and quiet – an illusion!

 

I close my eyes to see my lover. I imagine the solitude of our garden, I hold onto it.

Then comes the reign of fire, the whooomphs of artillery, the staccato of bullets

and I remember from experience the plumes bursting upwards from their falling houses

like pillars of salt rising on the Dead Sea, spilling into the sky along all of their horizons.

In this strange cave-light, on every vibration, sand falls like gold dust onto a mother’s face.

I make myself small, we could be in here for hours, even days.

 

I feel so alive and I ask the universe if it sees the woman

waiting for me in the future, who hungers for me,

the one I hunger for, my need of her touch?

Outside, the Gods are deciding who lives and who dies,

the shelter keeps the hum of prayers to Christ and to Allah,

fathers feed worry beads through their fingers.

Death is prowling the perimeter; and we have no permission to fight.

 

(c)Michael J. Whelan

 

This poem was shortlisted in the University College Dublin ‘Voices of War’ International Poetry Competition for the Centenary of the Armistice 2018 in the Irish State’s Decade of Centuries commemorations and is published on their websites on New Years Eve 2018.

See – https://www.facebook.com/voicesofwar2018/photos/a.594079697691846/618256728607476/?type=3&theater

Also – http://centenaries.ucd.ie/events/voices-of-war-international/

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Irish Naval Service rescue operation – Mediterranean Sea 2015 Photo: L/CommOp Mick Ahern

 

 

HOW DISTANT THE SUN

(For Ruairi de Barra – Sailor & Poet,

Irish Naval Service,

Refugee/Migrant crisis, Mediterranean Sea) 

                            

 

Unlike your ship the world is adrift,

washed out by the fury

of a million refugees,

all those processions

that you bear witness too,

a life experiencing the long

desperate moments in a day,

and all the days

that become a sentence

only you, a poet, can register.

You navigate towards home

and I ponder

how distant the sun is,

and yet I use it

as if torchlight in a cave,

to watch poems form

in the depths of oceans.

 

Michael J. Whelan 

 

Irish Naval Service rescue operation – Mediterranean Sea. CPO Ruairi de Barra in Has/Chem suit carrying child – 2015 Photo: L/CommOp Mick Ahern

 

Published in FLARE 09 (October 2018) a quarterly publication dedicated exclusively to poets and poems heard at The Sunflower Sessions, edited by Éamon Mag Uidhir & published on behalf of The Sunflower Sessions by Declan McLoughlin. See https://www.flare.ie/?fbclid=IwAR2L3bRApeMpeYMrXeAqEtbcH6hSxByFHk6FNhwDk9yHvzbLF6k_UBSr9p8

 

Photos credit: L/CommOp Mick Ahern – Irish Naval Service and show Mediterranean Sea rescue in progress, also shows CPO Ruairi de Barra in Has/chem suit carrying child  – 2015.

 

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