After the Bailey

i.m. Gerry Conlon, 1954-2014


After the Bailey, he walked the streets
at sundown, inhaling death like a coal fume,
his face bristly, boots scuffed to shreds,
clutching a life he knew he’d never resume.


Dawn smiled sadly on the Falls Road.
He heard a drunk’s red-raw laughter,
worn out from dancing to the music
of the spheres, the calm of hereafter,


the sprawl of a city in guarded remission.  
For all things, he felt he stood accused. 
He had to remind himself that, in prison,
the sun and moon are easily confused. 


The past is another country, they say. 
One he would never emigrate from.
The last sound he needed to hear
was the fateful echo of his own name, 


chanted by protesters, spat by prison guards,
or declared, at the pleasure of a judge,
as one more public enemy: an iron verdict,   
overseen from the altitudes of privilege.


He pushed invisible rocks from street
to street, stooping against a bulk
only he could feel, his nerve centre
scorched by trauma’s molten milk. 


Another day to endure, Gerry Conlon.
The sun rises for your trampled benefit,
warming the blameless in a world where
fortune favours only the well-connected.


Author’s note: I had the privilege of reading this poem out in St. Paul’s Church on Falls Road, Belfast during the Feile an Phobial festival in August 2014. I have both Frances Black and Jimmy Smyth to thank for that privilege.