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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. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

 

HAUNTING FLIGHT

(Irish U.N. post coming under attack,

South Lebanon, c. 1990s)

 

 

Vibrating rings expand to edge of cup,

if I close my eyes it will be gone.

The one o fives and one five fives are curving through the night,

my ears pick out the distant crump, crump, crump.

 

A tank-round bursts the silence,

transforming blast-walls in a multitude of sparkles,

lit up by a million flechettes puncturing concrete slabs.

The dancing shrapnel illuminates our billets to the violent night,

the echoes search, as red flares pop into haunting flight.

 

Then our radios whine up, their fans belch out a constant drone

of shoot reps and a firing close in response to RPGs,

panicked non-human voices fill the sweating room,

the carnival is back again but much too soon.

 

My chest rotates in anxious sickening trip,

it’s nights like this I feel that I could quit

the arc of noise and traffic through my sleep.

 

Michael J. Whelan

 

 

RPG = Rocket Propelled Grenade

Flechette = Isreali anti-personnel shell filled with long shards of metal

One o fives and one five fives = Artillery shells

Published by Mark Ulyseas in L.E. Poetry Magazine, January 2018 issue under the sequence title TRUTH

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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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Michael J. Whelan  – RTE Nationwide (screenshot)

 

Hi all, please see the link below for recent exposure given to my PEACEKEEPER poetry collection on a popular Irish television programme. I am really very pleased with the feature and very grateful to all those involved in its production… Michael

SOLDIER POET/REPORT VALERIE WATERS – RTE Nationwide 20th October 2017, 7pm

‘When we think of the War Poets, those of the era of WWI usually come to mind. We have today a serving airman in the Irish Air Corps who is a published poet. Reporter Valerie Waters went to meet Michael J. Whelan to find out about how the experience of serving as a Peacekeeper over seas influenced his writing’

Section on Peacekeeper is in part 2, or after the commercial  break – see link below!

https://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/nationwide-21/10792379/

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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/

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

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

 

CHECKPOINT

 

The peacekeeper,

flak-jacket buttoned to the neck,

blue helmet fastened tight

under the chin,

rifle slung across the chest,

muzzle pointing at the distant ground,

trigger finger tensed

along the trigger guard

switched to automatic.

 

Alone he stands there,

holding the road

in front of wire entanglements

and tank-stops

in the narrow chicane

of a sun trapped checkpoint,

left arm raised high,

the palm of his hand

facing the threat.

 

Michael J. Whelan

Published recently in L.E. Poetry Magazine April 2017 issue  http://liveencounters.net/le-poetry-writing-2017/04-april-p-w-2017/michael-j-whelan-the-hero/

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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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