The Lookout

by Bebe Ashley

It is probable that poetry is being born somewhere in the stillness of the night when the Republican soldier looks up at the stars, or hears the rabbit rustle in the fern.
— ‘Saturday Review’ The Irish Book Lover Vol. XII


The scraps of paper shoved down the inside ankle
of a boot are there for emergencies. It’s easy to forget
yourself when the hills come & go with the cloud cover

& the heartbreak has been relentless. By now, even you
are suspicious of the rabbit rustling through the fern
& of the hedgehog emerging from the heliotrope.

A night with no stars is not a good night.
You are wearing down the lead of the pencil
in your coat pocket. The paper dampens quickly

& being no distance from the lough will help.
If you look north long enough, you’ll see sparks
from somebody else’s safety matches reflected

in the gorse & you’ll appreciate the risk:
a brisk wind would carry fire across the island.

This is one of ten poems commissioned by UCD Library, Poetry Ireland, and Arts Council Northern Ireland as part of Poetry as Commemoration, a two-year initiative supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, under the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 programme.

The aim of Poetry as Commemoration is to encourage creative engagement with the material history of the Irish War of Independence & the Civil War.

This poem was inspired by an epigraph found in the ‘Saturday Review’ segment of The Irish Book Lover, Vol. XII, published in October 1921. A copy of this issue of The Irish Book Lover is held in Special Collections at Queen’s University Belfast Library.

The poem will be published in Grief’s Broken Brow, a limited fine press edition designed and produced by Jamie Murphy at The Salvage Press featuring original artwork by James EarleyGrief’s Broken Brow will be presented as a gift to 100 repositories providing a tangible record of the Decade of Centenaries and a legacy object for future generations. Poems are made available to the public via Poetry Jukeboxes, the Poetry as Commemoration website, and the Irish Poetry Reading Archive.