Just a piece of pale twine curled
dusty on the bookshelf
it lay there unnoticed .
This sandy string survived Mons, Ypres, Verdun
When lifted, two copper discs clacked
worn pennies for the Ferryman.
No name merely a number engraved
Imagine a field hospital – you, mute bleeding
skin flapping, angry pain roaring.
Nurses slice saturated grey flannel red khaki, sifting
hair flesh clotted crimson blood, white splintered bone
scouring debris from the mess that was your head,
ticking off your details – Irish Guardsman, McKenzie
wounded in action
Telegram sent to family in Eire.
Dull plate plugged the hole but
your ear forever held the fury of that
last stuttering howl.
The Troubles echoed it down your years
I try to see this cord round your young neck.
White celtic skin bows willingly
eager for a Queen’s shilling
while your neighbours blast
Dublin’s heart in a fight for freedom.
But that eager volunteer slips away
– you were ever a gruff old man to me.
Previously published on Colin Will’s excellent online magazine, The Open Mouse: