My knuckles rapping on the coffin lids:
Wake, you generations of the dead!
In the name of God
open the locked boxes of your motivations;
unknot the ribbons binding up your wills;
unstop the wellsprings of your passionate mistakes,
account for yourselves,
because my entry to this world
was made on the terms your deeds had set;
my very flesh and features
speak of you, who never saw my face.
You are alive, somewhere,
you peasants of Kildare; you rapparees;
you steward of the Tipperary absentee;
you urban spalpín, shovelling grain for Guinness’s;
and you who signed the Ulster Covenant
and then endured the Somme;
and you, the brides and maiden aunts and nuns,
the wooed, the wed and widowed…
all of you,
you must not leave me in the dark
among the rumours and the half-said things,
weighed down with the shame and guilt
you never had the courage, or the strength
or time to cauterise.
The wars you lived through or the wars you fought
are fighting still in me:
Mercurial Aunt Katy’s staunch Irregular/Ex-British-Serviceman sweetheart;
my mother blown from her parents’ bed
by the blast the Unreconciled set off among themselves,
draping the Naas Road railings with their own insides,
hanging like sausages, she said.
And all of you were pressurised to bow
to the god of Force,
to the belief that peace is made through war.
I want to gather up your wounds
as evidence in the countervailing scale
and I will reconcile you in myself
or what did you birth me for?
Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was inspired by the Commemorative Stamp issued on 27 October, 1941, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the opening lines of the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland, 1916:
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.