The Irish For No

© By Ciaran Carson

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Was it a vision or a waking dream? I heard her voice before I saw
What looked like the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, except Romeo
Seemed to have shinned up a pipe and was inside arguing with her. The casements
Were wide open and I could see some Japanese-style wall-hangings, the dangling
Quotation marks of a yin-yang mobile. ‘It’s got nothing’, she was snarling, ‘nothing
To do with politics’, and, before the bamboo curtain came down, ‘That goes for you too!’

It was time to turn into the dog’s-leg short-cut from Chlorine Gardens
Into Cloreen Park, where you might see an ‘Ulster Says No’ scrawled on the side
Of the power-block – which immediately reminds me of the Eglantine Inn
Just on the corner: on the missing ‘h’ of Cloreen, you might say. We were debating
Bacchus and the pards and me, how to render The Ulster Bank – ‘the Bank
That Likes to Say Yes’ into Irish, and whether eglantine was alien to Ireland.
‘I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,’ when ‘yes’ is the verb repeated,
Not exactly yes, but phatic nods and whispers. ‘The Bank That Answers All
Your Questions’, maybe? That Greek portico of Mourne granite, dazzling
With promises and feldspar, mirrors you in the Delphic black of its windows.

And the bruised pansies of the funeral parlour are dying in reversed gold letters.
The long sigh of the afternoon is not yet complete on the promontory where the victim,
A corporal in the UDR from Lisbellaw, was last seen having driven over half
Of Ulster, a legally-held gun was found and the incidence of stress came up
On the headland which shadows Larne Harbour and the black pitch of warehouses.
There is a melancholy blast of diesel, a puff of smoke which might be black or white.
So the harbour slips away to perilous seas as things remain unsolved we listen
To the ex cathedra of the fog-horn and ‘drink and leave the world unseen’ –

What’s all this to the Belfast business-man who drilled
Thirteen holes in his head with a Black & Decker? It was just a normal morning
When they came. The tennis-court shone with dew or frost, a little before dawn.
The border, it seemed, was not yet crossed: the Milky Way trailed snowy brambles,
The stars clustered thick as blackberries. They opened the door into the dark:
‘The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.’ Empty jam-jars.
Mish-mash. Hotch-potch. And now you rub your eyes and get acquainted with the light
A dust of something reminiscent drowses over the garage smell of creosote,
The concrete: blue clouds in porcelain, a paint-brush steeped in a chipped cup
Staples hyphenate a wet cardboard box as the upturned can of oil still spills
And the unfed cat toys with the yin-yang of a tennis-ball, debating whether ‘yes’ is ‘no’.

© Ciaran Carson, The Irish for No, 1987, complete text,The Irish for No, 1987, The Gallery Press.

Ciaran Carson references here the Unionist opposition to the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985, expressed in the slogan Ulster Says No, and the occasional stories of members of the security forces killing themselves with their own guns.

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