Civil War Photograph

by John Flynn

I’ll win this civil war inside my mind, 

Its open wounds of shellfire bursting,

Bullets whistling this way and that. 

For now, I smile in this photograph 

Lying here with a group of the boys,

In front of a makeshift fire in a tin bath.


What will you see on our faces as we pose? 

Blood lust from firing shots 

At those Treaty soldiers? 

I am sure I yelled as I saw one man drop. 

Or boredom from long dull days spent checking passes 

Of farmers’ wives coming from the shops.


In my head I hear these voices:

‘No surrender to the British lackeys.’

‘Stand up straight, boy, you’re a soldier now.’

 ‘Don’t go Johnny, you’re too young’

‘What have those men done to my son?’ 

I feel unsure which way to turn.


I’ve never seen a photograph before. 

I don’t let on though, I act tough.

I hope I look like how I see myself: 

Young no longer but older in my uniform. 

The old sergeant sits up, unsmiling,

A foretaste of who I might become.


I hold my rifle close; I feel its power. 

No more droving cows down bohereens. 

No, I’ll make something of myself.

I see my choice now, my future road, 

Even if my neighbours have to die.

I’ll win this civil war inside my mind.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in Poetry as Commemoration workshops held at The Pearse Museum, Dublin, in October 2022. The workshops were led by writer Kevin McDermott.