When we were Lads
we went with such a fearless ferocity
into that jungle -puzzled world that was the awaiting
Beyond our hall door , into the carnival of life;
Into that vicious goddam stupid world
Until on a colourless day we waited
Waited as a lumbering ship
Beat down on the Cuban coast
And there were no answers in our club that day
As we waited for World War three.
When we were lads
We prayed fervently and with peerless heroism
As the Russian troops invaded Hungary
And we planned our revenge on all of Communism ,
in our fortress made of boxes and a car door
and a sign that advertised
‘ Guinness is Good For You’ in black and yellow.
And another which said
‘’no girls allowed .’’ in blue and green ,
as the tanks of priestess godless men
plundered the country and her faithful peasants
Men with thuggish faces as the newspapers had shown
When we were lads ;
we went without a care to those far off shores
into the midst of high forests under the blazing sun
Though it was midwinter in our shed;
(And it didn’t seem too much a sacrifice to make - especially if there was a beach)
To defend the missionary priests
from the charging Zulu pagans ;
Who were cannibals. And even then
They didn’t know it was a sin
To eat meat on a Friday.
Watching the clock of history tick down
To the end of the world
In our sitting rooms ;
After we'd said the rosary ,
And I'd come down from bed
To hear the News lest the invaders come
Before my parents returned .
Waiting , in the dark , with only the green light of the radio dial to see their brutish faces.
Waiting till the communists broke in the front door.
Not to worry , I told my younger sister, who stole from her bed
To hear the news in case they invaded when she was asleep.
I had my father 's shotgun ,loaded by my side
And she drew closer; timid and petrified with her warm shivering
Rent my heart ,and tore it open when she said at least we'd be together
When we died and I could lead the way
because she did’t know t which road it was to Heaven on her own -not yet,
She would next year , when she was six.
Again the radio chimed before the news
And she asked me if the communists were nearer
And I said no ,much further away
Further than Dublin or Kilconnell?
Dublin - I said
Further than near the zoo ? she said
I held her hand in mine and felt its smallness
So light compared to the shotgun crooked so heavily in my other arm
Let me listen .. the radio just .. Be quiet
You said it was in the paper
- so it was , yesterdays paper
- how do you know ‘ yesterdays paper if its today.. It still says today’s paper- you said that when it was still today
-just tell me how you know’
In that world of dubious threats of fear and persecution
That weary world that was the town of my youth
We sneaked beneath the parapats of bridges;
And with a savage fearless raging
Threw blind barbed and leaded hooks
Into the swirl
And dragged with deft strokes against the salmon running up the river
And as the police car came by on the hour
Patroling the river banks against poachers,
We huddled in the dank ware house stores, where pigeons fluttered
And only they were awakened by our squelching boots
We looked upon our sleeping city
With satisfaction and a little derision
Until the police car came around at Six AM
And grumpy policemen awoken from a drunken dream
Got out and zapped their flashlights all along the river bank;
Shouted -’ we know you’re there - give yourselves up'
And got back in and drove away , lest there be anyone there.
But not before another shouted out the window as they went;
- we’ll kill ye ..!!little bastards.. -
And another , doing his custodial duty shouted without much expectation
‘- whats yere name’s ?? - we know ye all .. Everyone !! -before the patrol car Spluttered into the smog of the early April morning of my town,
Cranking itself awake to the sound of mill-wheels grinding thunderously against the stone
And the acrid smoke billowing from the fertiliser factory
Which always reminded me of Auswhich
And a gas mask we kept under the stairs
From when my mother taught in London before the bombing
And all yet seemed tame
In that monochrome slowmotion-time of the early fifties
As if the world still trembled in shock and
Revulsion at the war.
And despite the Communists invading Hungary
Or the missiles bearing down on Cuba
We could always figure things out
In that sheltered fortress in my backyard ,
That sturdy redoubt ,which was helt together with with bailing twine,
A a black car door, for a wall, and a sign saying
‘ Guinness is good for you ‘
And the other in a vivid blue and trailing green
‘ no girls allowed’
Only when a small sister was too terrified ,
And too young to know that ‘yesterdays paper ’
Doesn’t have it written down that way ,
And that you could tell by date .
And by consensus and a formal vote
It was passed that - our secrets would be safe with her
And I remember ;
Because I counted all ten votes.
Nine were present ;
Pete was absent with some sickness ; as was usual.
But had passed his voting paper to me .
And all the wars were planned and raged and reconciled,
In that last moment
Before we departed for battle ,and our Missionaries returned
Uneaten by the Zulus in the jungle
And each organised and measures but violent debate ; ended in a bloodied nose
Or two blackeyes - which you you would say you got when you fell; which wasnt a lie ;
Because it was first a pledge , and ccouldnt be broken.
And after each reconccilliation a prayer ;
that we’d never ever fight each other again, and each promise held firm , until the debate.
And the world beyond our hall door seemed safe and the adult world seemed by and large - reliable
Until the news came through
That Kennedy ’d been shot in Dallas Texas,
In November sunlight , smiling from his cavalcade
That day , young lads had to think hard and often;
And a little sisters persecutions with her many ’whys’
Made us ask that same question all that greylong day
And even in the shelter of our fortress we were lost for answers
And worst of all
Could we ever trust grown ups again.
We didn’t even take a vote that day.
But we pledged to kill the Communists next time they came
Sneaking in the night .
And they didn’t even know , this time
What trouble they were in for
' Cod we'd had discovered how
To make gunpowder !
And worse - A chemical bomb
You made from a mixture of Harpic and Parazone ; from my mothers kitchen.
This time we would do it ourselves
The Communists didn’t have a chance
And my sister asked us not to kill the children
Not the babies ; she wanted just one to nurse herself
And made me promise.
And I did