Encounter Nineteen Twenty

by John Hewitt

Kicking a ragged ball from lamp to lamp,
in close November dusk, my head well down,
not yet aware the teams had dribbled off,
I collided with a stiffly striding man.

He cursed. I stumbled, glimpsing his sharp face,
his coat brushed open and a rifle held
close to his side. That image has become
the shape of fear that waits each Irish child.

Shock sent each reeling from the light’s pale cone;
in shadow since that man moves out to kill;
and I, with thumping heart, from lamp to lamp,
still race to score my sad unchallenged goal.

John Hewitt (1907-1987)

Hewitt, John. Out of my time: poems 1967-1974. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1974.

Reproduced with permission of the John Hewitt Society.