Excerpt #7 from the new book: It is an additional poem I’ve just written which will adjoin a paragraph or two about World War One, and the fact that 150,000 Irishmen signed up for it. The poem also has references to Cobh.

[Excerpt #7]


Bill Buckley was a Cobh man
who fought in World War One.
“For King & Country” he signed on
–they handed Bill a shilling and a gun.

Ten million lost their lives on Flanders Field
(they push up poppies still.)
Another twenty million lost a limb or two;
yet more lost shell-shocked minds.

Guns & bombs that burst in air; four years
of mud & rats & poison gas that ate out lungs.
(It was the war that brought the “Basket Case”)
Shells that shattered, shells that shocked –so
loud and for so long, they ground the entrenched
soldiers down and made some Trembling Mad.
And when Bill Buckley trembled too,Glum Majors
said “Stop faking! Pull yourself together, man!”)

At home it was a very different war –of Regal-
Rival Cousin Kings & Czars & Kais’rs with waxed
& twirled facial hair & heavy-medalled chests.
And endless Stars of This & That & Orders of
the Other. And braid & sash & epaulet & ostrich
plume. & ceremonial swords (–mere rifles would
have looked so wrong in portraits.) All-in-all,
it was the perfect Comic-Opera Holocaust.
(And absolutely no-one’s fault.)

It was “The War to End All Wars” war; the “Never-
Again” & the “War is Over” War. [Over and over:
proof –if proof were needed– of…whatever. And
of course we may assume, all hearts went out.]

Back home poor Bill lived out a lonely postwar
life, a blood-shot shell-shocked shadow of his
former self; possessed & tortured by unrelenting
ghosts of Flanders Field who followed him to Cobh.

As kids we’d see him rage & roar on Laundry Hill
at demons in the tall dark trees across the road.
Squaring-off, he’d call them out in a “Come on,
you bastards: put up your dukes” angry voice.
He scared us kids –until we too were old enough
to get the joke.
It’s only Bill.

One day on Laundry Hill my father & my sister
(–not yet ten) saw Bill take on the ghosts. And
when my Dad explained it was the Shell-Shocked
Pain of War that made life hell, my ten year old
sister crossed the road & gave poor Bill a kiss!

A kiss that would have to last dear Bill a lifetime!

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