Inspired by a suggestion from Lou at I Hug My Books, I’ve tried, in this post, to put together each various element that I am interested in – a photo, a piece of art, a story and a poem. It was an interesting project, looking through my work and discovering that themes I use in my poetry, prose and art don’t always overlap, although history does make a regular appearance. Obviously my photography becomes the hardest element if I pick a subject vaguely historical. I overcame this by learning from one of my favourite photographers Willie Doherty and replicating the photos of Northern Ireland he makes that don’t show specifics but rather the eerie possible locations of secret meets, ambushes or bombings. Comments are welcome, and thanks for looking.
PoemsBandit Country In Tullyvallen breezed grass is a crouching man By the fence through the darkness shuffling. A leaking gutter springing droplets, tapping On the uneven concrete are footsteps, The last few up to the back door. In Tullyvallen a passing taxi driving revellers Is a minibus full of farmers in balaclavas Retribution from the other side of town Did it pass and fade, or stop? A nocturnal assassination – a dog’s howl. Patrol We marched out towards Newry To the New Road we hurry From Crossmaglen’s high walls Out over dark moors. Boots wet and blisters Wind deafens our footfalls. Lino Print and photograph:
Excerpt from a recently published piece of prose:
The New Road is ahead, the Lead Scout Dawson is to my right, he climbs the hedge first and crouches. As I’m crossing he gives a signal – a raised hand – and we all drop low. I’m astride of the hedge but I slip down on the intended side and click the safety off on my rifle. The road is too quiet for this time in the morning. Dawson dashes ahead and I keep an eye both ways whilst the others get over the hedge at different points.
Dawson and I move North West in the direction of Tullynavall. I keep my heavy SLR on instant – safety off – we march with safety on in case someone trips. I can feel the rest of the section behind me, I pray they stay quiet. Dawson is listening to his ear-piece, there’s a Puma somewhere and it’s spotted something on the road, I become more alert, I breathe quietly, hold my rifle high, my eyes burn into the distance.
We stop. The gun group with the GPMG has crossed the road further back they will try for high ground. The rifle group is on our side and the command group is behind. Dawson gives a thumb down to me, we freeze, he’s spotted something. We wait; on the November breeze I hear fragments of voices like jigsaw pieces. Dawson pats the top of his helmet. I go to him. I can feel the mud beneath me, giving under my weight, slipping. Newry is still five and a half hours in the opposite direction.
The Lieutenant is watching through his rifle sight and me and Dawson are still on point. Then the Lieutenant covers his face with his hands and points straight up the road. It’s the signal to go; we run low and quick a few metres and then come down again. My whole body feels like it’s shivering but my hands are steady, my mind is empty. The mud is wet, the sky is grey, I take it all in.
Now I see what the Puma reported, a brown Ford Cortina, parked across one half of the road, and a figure, nothing more than a black bullet shaped silhouette, an illegal checkpoint. Contact. We can’t get closer to the car to see what’s beyond without compromising ourselves. Signals are waved across the road and the bushes respond with a ‘ready to move’ gesture.
When an engagement begins you go blind to everything other than the threat ahead and your mates on each side of you. Guns rattle in fits and jerks, and at different tempos, the GPMG is deeper, like a chain being run quickly over stone, like a ships anchor unravelling. It is over as soon as it started, the fields echo gun-shots and the crows caw.
‘Rifle group go,’ the Lieutenant shouts. Assess, run, cover, fire, that’s our tactics. ‘Gun group go.’ There is the rattle of fire again and then it is quiet.
There are four dead at the roadblock, the Cortina is knackered. The rifle group move on up the road, the gun group fans out and me and Dawson take a minute pretending to look observant whilst Sergeant Bloom and the lieutenant disarm the bodies and searched them. You feel like shit afterwards, heavy and tired and hungry. It was drizzling and we had a five hour romp to go. Now my hands really are shaking, I click the safety on with numb fingers and lick my dry lips.