The War Degree

© By Medbh McGuckian

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You smell of time as a Bible smells of thumbs,
a bank of earth alive with mahogany-coloured
flowers – not time elaborately thrown away,
(you wound yourself so thoroughly into life),
but time outside of time, new pain, new secret,
that I must re-fall in love with the shadow
of your soul, drumming at the back of my skull.

Tonight, when the treaty moves all tongues,
I want to take the night out of you,
the sweet Irish tongue in which
death spoke and happiness wrote:

a wartime, heart-stained autumn drove
fierce half-bricks into the hedges tree-muffled
streets vanished in the lack of news.
Like a transfusion made direct from arm
to arm, birds call uselessly to each other
in the sub-acid, wintry present. The pursed-up
fragrances of self-fertile herbs
hug defeat like a very future lover.

Now it is my name and not my number
that is nobody now, walking on a demolished
floor, where dreams have no moral.
And the door-kiss is night meeting night.

© Medbh McGuckian, The War Degree, 1994, complete text, Captain Lavender, 1994, The Gallery Press.

‘My name, Medbh, is quite important, because I am repudiating the Anglicisation of myself. And some part of me is desperately seeking a spiritual reunion with my native, Irish-speaking, peasant, repressed and destroyed, ancestors and ancestresses. If to be Irish is to be Catholic, at the same time as you’re trying to get away from the anglicisation of yourself, you are also trying to get away from the colonization of your soul by Roman Catholicism. I can’t accept that kind of restriction. I’m trying to re-christianise myself, to get back to whatever true Christianity is.’

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