Remembering our dead
The Cemetery at Meuse Argonne
100 years ago today (24th October 1918), my great uncle, Michael Walsh, a Private in the 115th regiment of the 3rd Battalion of the US Army, was killed by shrapnel during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. He was three weeks past his 30th birthday, and had only arrived in France the previous June. Members of my family, led by my sister, Finola, who has done extensive research into Michael’s life and death, are visiting his grave at the Meuse Argonne American War Cemetery.
Age shall not weary them
in memory of Private Michael Walsh, 24/10/1918
St. Enda’s in its prime; sky clear, air crisp,
the sheddings of beech in piles
where the park warden swept them.
‘Brown gold,’ he smiles, undaunted
at a task made futile by the next gust.
We talk of public affairs; a presidential poll,
one candidate leading the field.
‘He’s 77,’ he shakes his head.
I think of my mother, all of ninety,
packing her bag today for a foreign trip,
to pay respects to a man she never met,
who died a decade before her birth,
peppered by shrapnel in a trench
on the French-Luxembourg border.
She’ll visit his white-crossed grave,
plant a marker, a poppy perhaps,
with her daughter and a scattering
of cousins from both sides of the Atlantic.
She’ll say a prayer, a poem,
cast a glance over row upon row
of white marble, tree-enclosed.
We shall not forget, how could we?
Shared genes give the same nose,
domed head, the pale blue eyes
that measure you up in an instant.
An instant was all it took
for Private Walsh, at 30 years old.
The cemetery will be swept,
poplars shedding tears
on the the living, on the dead
of the Meuse-Argonne.
I was delighted to be asked to contribute ten poems to UCD’s splendid Irish Poetry Reading Archive. The link to the Youtube recordings are here: http://libguides.ucd.ie/ipra/readingsotor
Mammy at Masada
If I were to remember you anywhere
it would be here, cliff-top,
59 metres above Dead Sea-level,
seated on rock, light bouncing off
the white glare of your sun-hat,
breath spasming in your 85th year
of brooking no obstacles.
We’d heard the foundation myth
on the way up: the no surrender,
the 960 men, women and children
opting for glorious death. You opt
for glorious life, gasp the thin air
left in your body, grasp the chance
to rise, resume the tour, run upstream
of tourists swarming the citadel.
To celebrate the publication of my first audio book, I’ve got a free code to offer to download the book from the Audible website. All you have to do to win the code is to respond to this post, or to the Facebook posting of this link. I’ll enter each name into a hat and email or Facebook the lucky individual – then all you need to do is write a little review telling the world what you think of Bar Talk. Sweet, eh?
You can visit the Audible Page for Bar Talk at
St Brigid’s Day, Woodside Road
For Fiona Curran
It’s just as well we didn’t bet our souls on it.
This first day of pagan spring dawns white,
the two-day fall blanking out pavements,
children making hay of it with snowballs.
One attempts, Sisyphus-style, to roll a boulder heavier
than his bodyweight up the embankment.
Mothers in tracksuits supervise from front-doors,
fathers, scrapers in hand, track warily round cars.
Sane people stay indoors, waiting for the equinox
and the met office to make it official.
But I brave the frost, looking for some augury or other,
find it in a melted six inch square in Vi’s planter.
I hunker down for a closer look, then bow before
green shoots tangled in a perfect plaited cross.
(from Her Father’s Daughter, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry, 2014)