"Flying Columns" published in the The Seven Towers 2014 Census

"Flying Columns" was published in the fourth Seven Towers Anthology. Seven Towers is non-profit publishing house based in Dublin. 

 

Flying Columns

 

        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,

nose-to-tail pageantry,

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.