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The Long and Wounding Road

Here, folded over the steering wheel

warm tides wash down my face

I see the foam-crowded furrows peel

over silver-sharp shores, tracing

life’s gift further from me

listening to time

slow in my broken chest

for you my shadow fell between

criminal and crime

for you I gave my best.

You’re one of the first officers responding to a terrorist attack on your colleagues. Your heart is racing. Eyes sting with apprehension. You feel a part of you moving away. There’s a momentary emptiness, which is soon filled by the presence of another self. A more sure-footed self clambers from the land rover. Running now. Steady. You are approaching the driver’s door of your colleagues’ vehicle. It lies open, wide, like a broken wing. The chain is broken. The inside of the door is bruised black. There’s a chemical smell in the air. It has the perfume of open ranges. Your approach is slow. The mind in your head is already at the door. Seeing what it sees. Telling you with flickering pages of pain, of red-raw mouths with teeth of bone. Your heart is a maelstrom of fists within your chest. Breaths become daggers. Agony. You stand at the open door. Agony. This is my body, which is broken for you. Blood steals from shadow. Sodium light gilds your colleague’s face. Slumped. Your body spasms into granite. Eyes race over a shock of wounds. An erupted shoulder hangs. His jaw has been flayed to a white brilliance. Bright and carved like a summer sun.

Here, folded over the steering wheel. That’s the wounds tracing themselves into words. Images folding down into verbs and adjectives. You have to describe what you see on those pages torn from your mind. And now you drop those bloody stains upon the virgin-white page. Wounds become words. Wounds become words. Falling from your mind in an anguish of ink. Let the images blur upon the page. They need no direction. They need no fetters. Choke the page with sentence after sentence. Chains of words. Spilling. Venting. The mists of images and memories are slowly being caged beneath you. They will always strive to claw at your thoughts and dreams and build with them a charnel house of bone-white memories. But, here is an image stolen from your mind and flung down upon the page.

Warm tides wash down my face. Slumped. You can’t stop your thoughts becoming his. His wounds becoming yours. Glimpsing his dead future. His dissolving past. Is it your mind searching for some far idyll, or is it his? A dying visage forever imprinted in time? The tide is raw-red. A sea of blood. Its spray clings to your face, congealing into a dark mask. Your eyes are open. Your eyes are dead. Your eyes watch the waves breaking upon your shore. Foam-crowned furrows peel / over silver-sharp shores. Each a sinuous second moving within the tranquility of a slowing heart. A measure of life leaving: tracing life’s gift further from [you] / listening to time / slow in my broken chest.

You are within the shell of your colleague. His husk. Penetrated by metal. Ripped open by a chemical reaction. The brightest light he would ever see. Like the ethereal blaze thrown out by a dying angel. Pain. Fleeting. And you motion his body free of its indifferent steel. And you mind struggles to find reason. And your heart breaks under the strain of hate. A hate which smothers all light. Webs of hate radiating from open mouthed onlookers. Everyday. In this world you are an outsider. In your arms your colleague weighs. The Royal Ulster Constabulary; faceless blood bags ripe for the slaughter. No more than that? But you want to find meaning. The indifference just twists the blade within your wounds. You were the shadow [which] fell between crime and criminal? You remember ..? All those times your presence and intervention prevented harm? That time you arrived at a house to find a woman beaten and bruised by her husband? You arrested him and got her to hospital. No? But it happened. It just melted into the cracks trod on by society. You gave [your] best? That sounds twee, now. A cliche with a pathetic mewling voice. But you did. You gave all you had. And time will not let you go? There’s little point drowning in woe. You need to give these images – these blood-blackened statues of a dead past – a voice, mewling or not. Only by drawing their poisons slowly out into the physical world can you start to control their death wish.

Try now. Just a few words. Let them scar the paper, or the air, in whatever form they take. Let yourself see the bastard-brutal wounds – write them out. The dry-throated screams – write them out. The silent flow of blood – write it out. Let others see those images. Wrap them in rhyme, or just cast them out in any fashion. Once they are out you will begin to know them better. To sense their presence at the edges of vision, the lengthening crawl of sleep.

Thank you for reading.

I will tackle another poem in my next post.

Published by Writer of fiction about Irish terrorism and the lives it damages.

This trilogy of novels will be set during the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ I always wanted to read. Having changed an aspect of ancient history (Constantine chose Mithras over Christ in 312 CE) this ‘butterfly effect’ freed me of the fetters of recent history and able to craft a counter-factual novel. A tale of working-class lives caught up in the deadly maelstrom of sectarian violence. While the focus is on characterisation, ‘The Bitter End of Dreams’ explores internecine violence, as well as the beliefs and fears which drive ordinary people to murder. Young lives seduced into joining paramilitary organisations and committing terrible acts of violence. Elements such as protection rackets, and the shadow of political and religious leverage also loom within the story. While the primary religion, and some names, is different, the hatred and violence remains very real and familiar. To date, most novels on the ‘Troubles’ have been post-conflict. My novel is set during the mid 1970s and fixes its gaze firmly upon the cramped terraces from where paramilitarism entraps young people, and, subtly, oppresses communities. I recently retired after over thirty years service in the RUC and PSNI. I was exposed to a number of terrorist incidents in which colleagues and members of the public, sadly, lost their lives. My novel began as a part of therapy to manage my diagnosis of Complex PTSD. While ‘The Bitter End of Dreams’ focuses on one side of the community, a second novel will explore the opposing community. A final novel will be written from a policing perspective. I have also written a number of poems centering on the pain and grief which continues to ripple from the ‘Troubles’. During my service I have striven to understand the ideologies of both Irish and Northern Irish paramilitaries: how they justify murder and extortion. To do this I have spoken to many paramilitaries - on both sides of the conflict. I hope my novel sheds a little light upon the dark heart of religious violence; not only in terms of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, but also on a global context.

One thought on “The Long and Wounding Road

  1. I had realised what I had seen or did in my service until now, I could always understand my hatred, but wish I couldn’t, what a very moving account, it resonates with me more than I am comfortable with…


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