"Flying Columns" was published in the fourth Seven Towers Anthology. Seven Towers is non-profit publishing house based in Dublin.
And it’s funny how, no matter what terrible injustice
is in the dying, the rest of us continue to forget. I
know some corners of this country where people
were executed and where the trees now look so
beautiful that I often wonder was I dreaming all that
blood in the long ago. But I suppose that’s what
politicians hope for: that we will all forget about
injustice so that they can continue to do nothing.
- Michael Harding, The Irish Times, Nov. 20th, 2012.
Enjoy the greenish-gold of summertime, lads.
No more houses stand for us to burn;
only smoke rings drift and stretch
across dew-rinsed hectares.
My hand is more claw than limb,
clamped in the same hooked position
from months of gripping the butt
of my shotgun -
the Lee-Enfield I held to salute
at the funerals of comrades, at parade,
and with which I now take aim.
Hit-and-run gunfire spurts
from behind a tuft of furze,
while Mills bombs erupt
in a white upsurge of gelignite,
devouring armoured cars
and RIC lorries in their black,
eating into khaki tunics and coats
like waterless bark.
Blood is the sacrament I hope
to receive out here,
and so I dress my wounds
with the mad candle of faith.
What, then, will the eye surrender to?
The years of playing at soldiers are over.
We’re rebels now, uniformed and eager,
gunmen marching on foot through rocky
boreens and crouching at the foot
of every hill, perching on our stomachs,
enmeshed by a field’s green limbo.
After dark, the roads are neither asleep
nor awake. Still as statues, we drink
down the cold. A cap is angled like a helmet,
an unlit roll-up clutched, quivering, between
a man’s lips, our fingers tight as our fury,
oak-hilted rifles held at a tilt to the road.
At times, it feels like the country we fight for
is trying to dismantle us with lashings of night-
time rain, mist swarming like a burial sheet. We
know the Empire’s obituary is at last being written,
a blank page inked with self-governing prose.
Our struggle shall be gilded by the poets,
with their linguistic smoke, their rhyming mirrors,
our enemies’ blood mottling Hibernian pillars.
A uniformed corpse lies prone in a frosted ditch, cold, open-eyed.
We deliver justice at its most rough.
Our phoenix-slogan will shrivel into cliché, but never obscurity.
Let our word of mouth tempt you, force the hand
of hatred to clench into a bristling fist. The world is old enough
to outlast us all, but still young enough
to outgun us in every ambush we inflict from the wayside.
Let us abide, then, by our engulfing decision.*
Author's note: During the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), armed land units, known as 'Flying Columns' were formed as detachments of the Irish Republican Army to combat the British security forces occupying Ireland at the time.
*The poem's final line is a slightly altered version of the final line in a speech delivered by Michael Collins to Dail Eireann on December 19, 1921.