A-Waitin on tha Whussle

by Angela Graham

36TH (ULSTER) DIVISION, 7.21 a.m., 1st July 1916

A’m liein here this brave while,
yin o Genèral Nugent’s men −
oot in Nae-man’s Lan gye an earlie
that bit neardèr tae thaim Huns,
tae be readie, an mair nor readie,
fur whan tha whussle wheeps.

A’m liein here this lang while,
face-doon in tha glar,
tha barrage up aheid.

a saft, saft wurd
fur a wile heavy thïng.

Barrage, Barrage – lik whut ye’d say
tae peacify an ailin baist,
straikin its sheeglin hide,
“Barrage, barrage, oul sinn,
yer pain’ll soon be bae ye.”

Barrage! Barrage! Barrage!
a wrathsome nieve, blargein,,
duntèrin, poondin…

… till tha delf leps frae tha boord
an doon it dings agane
Agane, agane he’d dae it,
a man tae murdèr
onie bit o peace.
A’d lie, face doon, oot o his road,
ma hauns tae ma lugs,
keepin him oot o ma heid.
Ma faither…

Aa tha wrathsome faithers o tha worl
is here theday,
blattèrin thair weans
in yin great stramash.
we ir sae smaa unnèr this sky o shells, ‘
tha grun aneath iz swallaed up bae soon
an we its spu’ins! Thon scraich
wull split ma heid!

Struck deef…!
Nae soon? Tha
guns hae

Yin mïnit fur tae tak a braithe …

Yin mïnit fur tae see, sae clear,
sae clear, thon lang-deid man,
his nieve aye clinchit
but, sae clear jest noo,
a luk o pain
flictèrin owre his face…

Yin mïnit mair
an A’ll be on ma feet
fur God an Ulstèr an tha Croon…

Ma Faither God, ye didnae spare yer sinn.
Inunnèr hemmer blows Ye lee’d him
Yit an wi aa he sayed, “Intae Yer hans…”

Ma sperrit… can A trust Ye wi it?
An wi ma faither’s…?
… fur tha sake o his yin nekked luk o sorra,
eneuch tae mak ma hairt gae oot tae him

an thon’s tha whussle
an tha wurd
that haes me up
an forrit
intae Yer hauns…


Waiting for the Whistle

36TH (ULSTER) DIVISION, 7.21 a.m., 1st July 1916

A long time I’ve been lying here,
one of General Nugent’s men −
early in No-man’s Land, so early,
that bit nearer to the Hun,
the readiest of the ready
when the whistle blows.

I’m lying here a long, long time,
in the muck face-down,
the barrage up ahead.

such a soft, soft word
for such a heavy thing.

Barrage, Barrage – the sort of thing you’d say
to an animal to soothe it,
stroking its trembling hide,
“Barrage, barrage, old boy,
your pain’ll not last long.”

Barrage! Barrage! Barrage!
a furious fist, thumping,
clouting, pounding…
… till the dishes leap from the table,
crash themselves down again.
Again, again he’d do it,
a man who’d murder
any sign of peace.
I’d lie, face down, out of his way,
my hands to my ears,
to keep him out of my head.
My father…

All the raging fathers of the world
are here today,
battering their children
in one huge assault.
We are so small under this sky of shells,
the ground beneath us swallowed by sound
and we its vomit! That screech
will split my head!

Struck deaf…!
No sound? The
guns have

One minute just to take a breath …

One minute just to see, to see
that long-dead man,
his never-unclenched fist
but, so clear just now,
a look of pain
passing across his face…

One minute more
and I’ll be on my feet
for God and Ulster and the Crown…

My Father God, you didn’t spare your son.
Under hammer blows you left him
and even so he said, “Into Your hands…”

My spirit… can I trust You with it?
And with my father’s…?
… for the sake of his one naked look of sorrow,
enough to make my heart go out to him

and there’s the whistle,
the command
that calls me up
and onward
into Your hands…




Reproduced with kind permission of the author.  Angela Graham is a writer and broadcaster. She turned to writing full time in 2017. Her poetry has appeared in The NorthThe Honest UlstermanPoetry WalesThe Ogham StoneThe Open EarThe Interpreter’s House and other journals. An award-winning short story writer, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2019. Books include Sanctuary: There Must Be Somewhere and A City Burning (Seren Books).