A Welcoming Party

© By John Montague

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Wie war das moglich?

That final newsreel of the war:
A welcoming party of almost shades
Met us at the cinema door
Clicking what remained of their heels.

From nests of bodies like hatching eggs
Flickered insectlike hands and legs
And rose an ululation, terrible, shy:
Children conjugating the verb ‘to die’.

One clamoured mutely of love
From a mouth like a burnt glove;
Others upheld hands bleak as begging bowls
Claiming the small change of our souls.

Some smiled at us as protectors.
Can these bones live?
Our parochial brand of innocence
Was all we had to give.

To be always at the periphery of incident
Gave my childhood its Irish dimension; drama of unevent:
yet doves of mercy, as doves of air,
Can falter here as anywhere.

That long dead Sunday in Armagh
I learned one meaning of total war
And went home to my Christian school
To kick a football through the air.

© John Montague, A Welcoming Party, 1993, complete text, Time In Armagh, 1993, The Gallery Press.

John Montague recalls how, as a schoolboy, he first saw footage of the Second World War death camps in Germany. In those days he saw such barbarism as remote but he has learned since that ‘doves of mercy, as doves of air,/Can falter here as anywhere.’

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