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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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Michael J. Whelan – Tibnine Castle, Peacekeeping S. Lebanon 

 

 

CRUSADER’S KEEP

 

There is a fire sky hanging

over Tibnine,

a blood sky, drowning

the ramparts of the Lionheart’s keep,

transforming white walls to red.

And I wonder if the Christian king

who built this castle saw skies like this,

heard the echoes of Alexander the Great

as he sacked Sidon and Tyre

two thousand years before,

like I hear the drums of Saracens

and Crusaders in this disputed place.

 

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

(Richard The Lionheart is said to have slept in Tibnine Castle.

The castle, built during the Crusades, is currently

situated within the Irish battalion area of peacekeeping

operations in South Lebanon).

 

Published in a sequence of six poems titled TRUTH by Mark Ulyseas in L.E. Poetry Magazine – January 2018 Issue

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Irish U.N. Patrol - South Lebanon c.1990s Photo by Michael J. Whelan

Irish U.N. Patrol – South Lebanon c.1990s.Photo by Michael J. Whelan

ROAD TO AT-TIRI

 (South Lebanon)

‘The sun is not to overtake the moon

nor the night to outstrip the day

and each swims in an orbit’ –Qur-an 26;33-58

 

 

Ancient minaret,  

sentinel monument marking

this splintered place. Village of the old,

counting days and mourning their dead,

the young flung to the corners of the Earth.

 

Beneath your silence quietly we pass

through battered streets,

guns pointed at the ground,

peppered walls keep your story.

 

Loud in flags of nations but enfeebled

by ghostly eyes whispering fear from the dying

our patrol follows the paths worn by many,

afraid to disturb their memories.

Our footsteps bear no echo

on this broken road.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published recently in the USA as part of a sequence  in ‘From the Cradle of Civilization: Contemporary Arabic Poetry”, the fifth edition of Life and Legends’ http://lifeandlegends.com/cradle-civilization/

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Photo by Vasil Kunchev – free stock image from Pexels

PEACEFUL SUNDAY

(Haris – village in South Lebanon, 1990s)

 

‘I remember a peaceful Sunday

and an empty classroom in Haris,

and thinking how their enemies didn’t need

to teach the children of that old village

the grammar of adult hate.

 

It was written in the rubble

of the four walls of that place,

in the shattered hanging ceiling

where a rocket spelled its fate.

 

I could read the yellow markings

on the rocket’s splintered case,

I heard the teacher’s lesson in the silence

of an empty shoe.’

 Michael J. Whelan 

Published recently as part of a sequence by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis  in ‘From the Cradle of Civilization: Contemporary Arabic Poetry”, the fifth edition of Life and Legends’ http://lifeandlegends.com/cradle-civilization/

 

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Michael J. Whelan - poet, Tibnine Castle, South Lebanon 1994

 South Lebanon 1990s. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

 

BLOOD SUN

 

They say ‘peacekeeping

is not a job for soldiers

 

but, only a soldier can do it.’

And tonight as the blood

 

sun goes down, spilling out

onto a hundred black horizons,

 

they steel themselves

rebuilding bunkers,

 

fixing strong defences

and pushing barbed-wire obstacles

 

across roads, preparing

for the reckoning.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published by Mark Ulyseas in a sequence of poems titled ‘A Hundred Black Horizons’ in L.E. Poetry Magazine, February 2017

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Lebanon landscape 1994 -Michael J. Whelan

Lebanon landscape 199os -Michael J. Whelan

 

METAL IN THE SKY

 

After the shelling – stillness.

The air is clean, nothing hurtful comes their way,

no more metal in the sky – for now.

 

The hills whisper to the survivors

‘live again, breathe deeply,

go to the wells and greet your neighbours,

count the missing and the dead and be glad,

for you’ll never feel so alive

as when you are close to death.’

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published by Mark Ulyseas in a sequence of poems titled ‘A Hundred Black Horizons’ in L.E. Poetry Magazine, February 2017

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Tibnine Village, South Lebanon 1990s. Photo Michael J. Whelan

Tibnine Village, South Lebanon 1990s. Photo Michael J. Whelan

 

ROCKETS RIFLE THE NIGHT

 

Frightened villagers count the shells

that peacekeepers cannot see.

They pray on worry beads

while rockets rifle the night,

impacting near,

bracketing the fright

of worried souls

under sandbagged ground.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

Published by Mark Ulyseas in a sequence of poems titled ‘A Hundred Black Horizons’ in L.E. Poetry Magazine, February 2017

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