Merciful Sleep

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Merciful Sleep.

Nameless and blameless,
drownings not painless,
Saint, sinner, soldier and thief,
weeping child for their mother,
father lost brother,
Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

Stuck to the cardboard with third-degree burns,
for hours without any relief,
please get him to stop crying,
tell him his sister’s just sleeping,
gently drifting,
as the others are still dying,
in the water just beyond my hands reach.

The sounds of the ribs cracking under my hands,
are better than the screams in the dark,
we can’t save them all, despite piles of money,
lie to yourself and say ‘more could have died’,
go to your cabin,
curl up in a ball,
and pray that exhaustion brings relief.

Twins reunited with the grieving father who falls to his knees,
a rare ray of hope in a boat overflowing with dread,
a young pregnant lady with a six-month round belly,
who was drowned when we pulled her in over the side,
the shame and the anguish knowing there’s people,
who would prefer if she had just died.

There was mass on the flight deck with the singing of Coptics,
shattered people proclaiming their beliefs,
the chorus of women swaying in union,
while the men spoke the words of the book,
when the darkness it came, it all when so quiet,
silence unbroken by the chosen in merciful sleep.

When the boat rolls over faster than you can imagine,
disappearing in the blink of your eye,
ditching all into the sea,
decision time now, which one to save first,
knowing full well you might never be right,
living with that isn’t easy,
when it plays in your head every night.

The cause of this mass migration is desperation,
crippling poverty and war without end,
if you choose to flee please don’t go by the sea,
don’t waste your life onboard one of these rafts,
you’ll die in the ocean forgotten and lonely,
with so many others washed up on a beach.

by Ruairí de Barra

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues. The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Faces

 

Ballons

Faces.

I draw faces on the nitrile* gloves with care,
never more struck by my privilege,
until I meet those without a home,
a child alone,
the laughter and delight at a simple toy,
a joy,
they are gathered at my feet,
their little bundles stand out in stark relief,
drawing in the bright sun,
on expensive paper with cheap crayons.

Children from the opposite sides of a continent,
separated by a vast expanse yet inseparable now,
sons of Ishmael and Isaac,
divided by words in a book,
one blue, the other amber through my sunglasses,
sharing a cardboard mat as worn out parents lay against the hanger door,
stress etched on their faces yet absent now in these little artists.

Their drawings made tears fall later as I sat and stared at the pages,
a little token offered up in friendship,
from tiny hands without shoes,
a village where a family lived and granny sat outside,
a car of an uncle that used to go so fast,
the battle in the streets,
where Technicals* blaze bright tracer fire,
and the roaring jets drop bombs.

One home has lurid yellow thatch,
while the other is a burnt-out shell,
smoke curls out of shattered windows,
in the other, a pet dog abandoned wags its tail,
one child escaping poverty,
the other hell,
the stick figures have names and stories,
except those who are lying still,
floating on red tides,
as the sun beats down on my neck,
blowing glove balloons.

by Ruairí de Barra

 

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues.  The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 18,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

 

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Notes:
(*Nitrile Gloves are non-latex sterile rubber gloves which have superior puncture resistance, the NS crew wear two gloves to prevent infection. White as the inner glove and Blue as the outer, so that a puncture on the outer glove will stand out and can be quickly replaced.)

(*Technical is the term for light improved fighting vehicles which are ubiquitous across Middle Eastern and African conflicts. Often an open backed four-wheel drive pickup truck  which has a heavy machine gun, anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or rocket launcher mounted on the back.)

Soldier Still

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Soldier Still

See the reverent hands unfold the cloth,

medals laid with old memories to rest,

blanketed in a white shroud,

serving to muffle the scraping sounds,

like April’s soil absorbed the impact of screeching mortars.

 

The pride in the aged serge cloth,

snug fitted belonging to a younger man,

witness to the pain at Qana,

where Jesus turned water to wine,

and artillery turned all to death & dust,

 

The familiar hug of peaker cap about the brow,

historical brass centred on the forehead,

burrowing into the mind with patriotic dreams,

which always run before the youth,

before smoke and blood fill the future.

 

Those gentle hands that hold a son, fighter like his father,

mounted crests on arms that shield a family,

spat upon with infamy,

a voice that roared no more,

as cowards struck with calumny.

 

Soldier still, with hands that have both shook and struck,

plastic keys replacing plastic rifle,

barbed comment replacing barbed wire,

from Bekaa to Finglas the defiance is simmering,

like a bayonet, shining.

 

Honest hands put words upon the page,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,

the naked truth cannot hide,

standing bare, alone on centre stage,

a Soldier still fights for right, for life.

Note:

The soldier featured in the video below and in the work above is Dr Tom Clonan a retired army officer, author and security expert.

Soldier Still is about violence. A new dance theatre work that blends movement, text, music, real stories and real people, creating a harrowing tale of beauty and brutality. A cast of Irish and international dancers and former soldiers collaborate with an exceptional creative team to explore the viciousness, the vulnerability and the trauma of violence. Previous Artists-in-Residence at Tate Britain, award-winning Junk Ensemble have built a reputation in Ireland as dance innovators. 

“Junk Ensemble has created some of the most impressive contemporary dance in Ireland … Enthralling and exact.” The Sunday Times

Guard

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Guard.

As the rain it fell,
they stood in silent sentinel,
youth whose life barely fills a page,
for those, alas, who will never age,
most gave their life on foreign soil,
where the cedar bleeds or in Katangian dust.

The eternal flame dancing in its cage,
brings light to unknown dreams,
sympathetic sighs from those who linger,
visiting the grieving garden,
of bronze busts and limp half-mast flags,
all keep a fleeting vigil as heroes’ sleep.

One fell at Derrada Wood, so earned his star,
one borne away on Scuabtuinne,
lost far out on the unforgiving sea,
more lost in flight on that darkest night,
another in distant hills of Fataurlo,
one more rolled in Bantry waves.

Kindly pause as you pass by,
bare and bow your head,
no need for praise or for applause,
please sit or kneel or wet your eye,
just remember those departed,
from whom forever pain has fled.

Families aching hearts,
as gun carriage rattles past,
rifles bark the final retort,
to click of leather heel and clink of brass,
mournful last post bugle call,
shock and quiver as teardrops fall,
to rest on arms reversed.

Wind

Wind.

Seek the high and lonely places,
let the roar of wind push electronic chatter from your ears,
and drag a tear from an eye that was dry too long.

Breathe deep.

Feel the bite and sting of cold wind rush into the forgotten basements of your lung,
and revel in it.
anywhere flushed skin is exposed,
the wind will lick and nip.

Seek the high and lonely places,
let the wind push and buffet you and feel small,
look out, across and down,
and feel small.

Breathe deep.

Feel the bite and sting of cold wind rush into the forgotten basements of your mind,
and revel in it,
the wind will rise and bare aloft memories that have been lost.

Note:
I am delighted to say that it was also one of the first poems which was kindly selected for publication by Elizabeth McKenzie, Editor of Tintéan.
Tintéan is the online magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network based in Melbourne, Victoria.
You may find them here to read at:  https://tintean.org.au/2017/06/06/poetry-14/