A Partial State

© By Tom Paulin

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Intractable and northern,
dry in the sun when it shines,
otherwise rained on, justly.

White god to desert god. ‘The
lines are open, what you do
to your helots is up to

‘you, no concern of ours. Say
no if you like, but keep them
quiet. Never forget that

‘irony is the weapon
of the disarmed, that yours are
blunter instruments, dourness.’


The chosen, having broken
their enemies, scattered them
in backstreets and tight estates.

Patriarch and matriarch,
industry and green hills, no
balance of power. Just safety.

Stillness, without history
until leviathan spouts,
bursting through manhole covers

in the streets, making phones ring on
bare desks. ‘The minister is
playing golf, please try later.’

Special constables train their
machine guns on council flats
water-cannons, fire, darkness.

The clocks are bleeding now on
public buildings. Their mottoes,
emblems of failure, tell us:

What the wrong gods established
no army can ever save.

© Tom Paulin, permissons Faber & Faber Ltd.

Tom Paulin is describing how he sees a Unionist culture as having separated itself from Nationalists but having failed to secure peace or stability by the old order. He suggests that the violence was an inevitable eruption. His images suggest he is speaking directly about the collapse of order in 1969, special constables shooting at council flats, the need to notify the minister.
He concludes that since the system that preceded the violence was wrong, no mere security response can restore it.

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