Tales of Transliteration

by Darren Francis Caffrey

‘The Grandfather’ who worked in the army camp fixing cars

told of one with a mountain’s name which drove ‘The Big Fella’ to… 


the flower’s mouth /

the mouth of the good land


where he was shot down (like enemy aircraft) 


[…] / rat ˗ rat ˗ rat /


eyes and ears of radio men on the ground 


           — and the whistle of a whelp 


There in that car         a wish left in bloodied hands:

To pull up a Free State from sceach and gorse


leaf˗spring suspension carrying nineteen tonne and three men

armour plate and turret˗gun fit to the chassis of British Rolls Royce

redeployed across The Empire in zones of conflict: 

Mesopotamia; Palestine; Ireland.


But away now from all the wars it ran

and unofficially landing in the workshop as ‘scrap’

Sliabh na Mban was restored and polished for history to shape


When his army career was up

my own grandfather opened a business

on a plot next to the barracks,

fixing cars that crashed

he applied what he’d learned.

His time on radios was classified… but enough to say

he studied German into his old age

and any time you’d visit 

a dish was aimed at the window,

three televisions on the go

“Sprechen sie Deutsch”.

He never spoke of his wartime;

only sometimes mentioned what he shouldn’t

before microwaving sausages

and putting his teeth back in to talk

that he’d be understood.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in a Poetry as Commemoration workshop led by Mary O’Donnell in Kilkenny Library on March 8th 2023.