The Twelfth of July

The holidays are here, most of his friends
have got away to France or Italy
to do the things that holidaying people do
in countries which gave up religious wars some time ago.

But he’s stayed on, patiently living through
the build-up to the rite of dominance
enacted every belle saison on this side of the waters.
He’ll take a break in Donegal in August.

Now, of an afternoon of heat, he’s driving home
at ease in the lanes he knows, an elbow out the window,
until he meets a road-block manned by boys.
He slows and stops. One juts his head in. ‘Name and business, mister?’

This mister’s business, all his life, has been
to fetch and carry ordinary hope from side to side,
to take down barriers a notch, a notch.
The words form in his mind, ‘Get out the fucking road
or else…’ But one says, ‘Let him pass, hi.
The oul’ fella walks the dog across his field.’
They drop the rope and shift an oil drum.

Driving on,
the thought which hurts him with a hurt he’ll have to overcome
is that his neighbours’ children have the confidence
to strut with sticks and challenges the land he shares;
that prisoners of history so narrowly confined
can be so sure they speak and act as freed men.

Big day today for boys not going anywhere.
Big night tonight, the highlight of their year:
a bonfire on a bit of tarmac outside Antrim.

Listen to this poem — read by the author