© By Michael Longley
Here are two pictures from my father’s head -
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with Fuck the Pope!
No Surrender!: a boy about to die,
Screaming Give em one for the Shankill!
Wilder than Gurkhas were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said - lead traces flaring till they hurt -
I am dying for King and Country, slowly.
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.
Now, with military honours of a kind,
With his badges, his medals like rainbows,
His spinning compass, I bury beside him
Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone.
A packet of Woodbines I throw in,
A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Paralysed as heavy guns put out
The night-light in a nursery for ever:
Also a bus-conductor’s uniform -
He collapsed beside his carpet-slippers
Without a murmur, shot through the head
By a shivering boy who wandered in
Before they could turn the television down
Or tidy away the supper dishes.
To the children, to a bewildered wife,
I think Sorry Missus was what he said.
Poem included with the permission of Michael Longley and his publisher Jonathan Cape
Michael Longly writes: “When I wrote the last two lines of “Wounds” (“To the children, to a bewildered wife / I think Sorry Missus was what he said.”) I was empathising with the paramilitary killer. Marie Heaney told me the awful story. I had been wondering for some time what my father, an old soldier and an old-fashioned patriot, would have had to say about the Troubles. Marie’s story sparked off the poem and released my memories of my father’s memories of the trenches.”