The Middle Sea

THE MIDDLE SEA.

If you drew back the ocean waves,
the graveyard of the middle sea would be seen,
strewn with the bodies of the poor,
from a hundred nations, they lie scattered by the thousands,
on the seabed, blanketed in the forever dark.

The ocean has no memory or mercy,
the sand will not a headstone make,
there will be no names carved in Tripoli or Valetta for these nameless bones,
locked or trapped inside decrepit hulks,
they tried to cross the waters with pitiless men.

The force that drives the third world out onto the waves,
must be stronger than the sickening worry in the pit of the mothers’ stomach,
as she places a toddler between her knees in the bilge,
the golden glow of Europe delivered via satellite,
must cloud again the eyes when the door of the hold is snapped shut.

When the jackals have stripped each and every dollar,
they’ll extract what they desire from your flesh,
hanging on the hook your family defenceless,
when you open your mouth they’ll break your teeth,
or execute you on the beach if your panic starts to unsettle all the rest.

The hands of Moses will not part this sea as they plummet,
there is no saviour here in the depth of night,
the deflating chambers on the collapsing raft,
ditching the screaming into the swell,
lungs inundated as salt water rushes in,
they’ll be dead before they rest on the ribs of the fallen below.

By Ruairí de Barra

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues. The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 15,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Merciful Sleep

MERCIFUL SLEEP.

Nameless and blameless,
drownings not painless,
Saint, sinner, soldier and thief,
weeping child for their mother,
father lost brother,
Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

Stuck to the cardboard with third-degree burns,
for hours without any relief,
please get him to stop crying,
tell him his sister’s just sleeping,
gently drifting,
as the others are still dying,
in the water just beyond my hands reach.

The sounds of the ribs cracking under my hands,
are better than the screams in the dark,
we can’t save them all, despite piles of money,
lie to yourself and say ‘more could have died’,
go to your cabin,
curl up in a ball,
and pray that exhaustion brings relief.

Twins reunited with the grieving father who falls to his knees,
a rare ray of hope in a boat overflowing with dread,
a young pregnant lady with a six-month round belly,
who was drowned when we pulled her in over the side,
the shame and the anguish knowing there’s people,
who would prefer if she had just died.

There was mass on the flight deck with the singing of Coptics,
shattered people proclaiming their beliefs,
the chorus of women swaying in union,
while the men spoke the words of the book,
when the darkness it came, it all when so quiet,
silence unbroken by the chosen in merciful sleep.

When the boat rolls over faster than you can imagine,
disappearing in the blink of your eye,
ditching all into the sea,
decision time now, which one to save first,
knowing full well you might never be right,
living with that isn’t easy,
when it plays in your head every night.

The cause of this mass migration is desperation,
crippling poverty and war without end,
if you choose to flee please don’t go by the sea,
don’t waste your life onboard one of these rafts,
you’ll die in the ocean forgotten and lonely,
with so many others washed up on a beach.

By Ruairí de Barra

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues. The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of, rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 15,000 people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Faces

 

FACES.

I draw faces on the nitrile* gloves with care,
never more struck by my privilege,
until I meet those without a home,
a child alone,
the laughter and delight at a simple toy,
a joy,
they are gathered at my feet,
their little bundles stand out in stark relief,
drawing in the bright sun,
on expensive paper with cheap crayons.

Children from the opposite sides of a continent,
separated by a vast expanse yet inseparable now,
sons of Ishmael and Isaac,
divided by words in a book,
one blue, the other amber through my sunglasses,
sharing a cardboard mat as worn out parents lay against the hanger door,
stress etched on their faces yet absent now in these little artists.

Their drawings made tears fall later as I sat and stared at the pages,
a little token offered up in friendship,
from tiny hands without shoes,
a village where a family lived and granny sat outside,
a car of an uncle that used to go so fast,
the battle in the streets,
where Technicals* blaze bright tracer fire,
and the roaring jets drop bombs.

One home has lurid yellow thatch,
while the other is a burnt-out shell,
smoke curls out of shattered windows,
in the other, a pet dog abandoned wags its tail,
one child escaping poverty,
the other hell,
the stick figures have names and stories,
except those who are lying still,
floating on red tides,
as the sun beats down on my neck,
blowing glove balloons.

By Ruairí de Barra

 

‘These words are not just my own experiences, they are also the stories & memories of my friends and colleagues.  The crew of LÉ Eithne whom I was privileged to be part of rescued nearly 3,600 people in 64 days in 2015. The Irish Naval Service since that first mission has rescued over 15, people. These poems are also the stories of the migrants and refugees, in particular, these are written in memory of those poor people who never made it. They lie along the trail of bones in the desert or were lost at sea. I write these words to say that I saw you and that none of us will forget you.”

Published in ‘A New Ulster’ Issue No. 62, December 1st 2017.
I would like to thank Amos Greg for seeing fit to include my work in the company of some incredibly talented people.
So pleased that this is my first published poetry in print in Ireland.

You can visit ‘A New Ulster@ website here:

https://anuanewulster.wixsite.com/anewulster/recently-in-anu

or read it online for free here at ISSUU:

 

Or if you are that way inclined to purchase a print copy and help support ‘A New Ulster’ who provide such wonderful publications each month you can do so at by visiting the address below.
The poets and writers in its pages receive no gratuity for their work and I am sure it isn’t easy for Amos to produce this monthly magazine, the hours of reading submissions alone must be incredible.

https://www.peecho.com/print/en/321929

Notes:
(*Nitrile Gloves are non-latex sterile rubber gloves which have superior puncture resistance, the NS crew wear two gloves to prevent infection. White as the inner glove and Blue as the outer, so that a puncture on the outer glove will stand out and can be quickly replaced.)

(*Technical is the term for light improved fighting vehicles which are ubiquitous across Middle Eastern and African conflicts. Often an open backed four-wheel drive pickup truck  which has a heavy machine gun, anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or rocket launcher mounted on the back.)

Tibnin Bridge

Tibnin Bridge.

In 1999 I drove over Tibnin Bridge in the sweltering heat,
as the UN bus rose a trail of dust,
billowing up behind us,
the laughter onboard almost distracted me from my task,
the careful watch of the road signs,
my finger following the road snaking through South Lebanon,
on a trip from Tyre up into the hills.

I was only a baby when you died here,
but not much later my older brothers went to serve in that land,
which was soaked with your blood,
I heard your story while I was still so very young,
in the weeks before the first of them left for the Lebanon,
they spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen,
but I heard from my games in the hall outside.

The worry cries of my mother and the bravado of my siblings,
could not be drowned out by the clattering of dinky cars,
Morrow, Murphy and Burke should have come home again,
they should have worn that blue beret down the steps at Shannon,
they should have made it back,
but betrayed they lay still in the baking heat,
as denial and cordite swirled about them in their final silence.

I paused for a moment in that laughing bus,
more like tourists than the sailors we were dressed to be,
meandering along the roads,
catching glimpses of life in the olive groves and rocky yellowed fields,
lives who’s roots you came to help protect,
while you were only 19 years old same as me,
burning under the same sun,
I remembered you as the bus raced over the bridge,
on the pilgrimage to Camp Shamrock with a cargo of ammunition,
and crumpled US dollars to see the mingy men.

Béal na mBláth

Commander_Michael_Collins

Béal na mBláth

I often wonder how that young Private felt,
when he saw the blood flow from Collins,
to mingle with the dirt in Beal na mBláth,
struck down by a ricochet,
the echoes still reverberating,
ringing through the decades.

At 19 a killer,
hands stained with English and Irish blood,
armoured in the green of Éire,
sworn by oath to the free state,
the pathway to our republic,
Risen rebel soldier,
with hand grenade & Lewis gun,
bayonet & faith.

To watch Micheal dead,
the dark stains spreading out trickling to the ditch,
like civil war cancer which spread from shore to shore,
Did it fall silent?
Did the peal of rifles cease?
Did they lament & weep?
At another mothers son snuffed out amongst the ancient hills of Cork.

What genius did we lose in the moment,
as that cursed round tore his head off at the side,
what cursed luck has Ireland,
that traitors oft chose to stab her in the back,
they felled the most loyal one on the roadside,
The Big Fella lay dead in the mouth of flowers.

Note:
My Grand-Uncle William Barry was the driver of the armoured car providing security for the detail in Beal na mBláth.
Sliabh na mBan, referred to as ‘Slievenamon’ in its earlier, anglicised form, is one of thirteen 1920 pattern Armoured Rolls Royce cars acquired from the British by the fledgeling Irish Free State.
All the males in my paternal line have worn the uniform of the state, for over 100 years a Barry has served beneath the tri-colour with Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Soldier Still

Screenshot_20170815-103102

Soldier Still

I saw the reverent hands unfold the cloth,
the medals laid with old memories to rest,
blanketed in a white shroud,
serving to muffle the scraping sounds,
like April’s soil absorbed the impact of screeching mortars.

The pride in the aged serge cloth,
snug fitted belonging to a younger man,
witness to the pain at Qana,
where Jesus turned water to wine and artillery turned all to death & dust,
the familiar hug of peaker cap about the brow,
historical brass centred on the head,
burrowing into the mind with patriotic dreams.

Those gentle hands that hold a son, fighter like his father,
the mounted crests on arms that shield a family,
and a voice that roared no more,
spat upon with infamy,
as cowards strike with calumny.

Soldier still, with hands that have both shook & struck,
fighting for all sisters & brothers of sacred oath,
plastic keys replacing plastic rifle,
barbed comment replacing barbed wire,
from Bekaa to Finglas the defiance is simmering,
like a bayonet,
shining.

Those honest hands that put words upon the page,
have erred yet have not lied,
nor have they shyed away,
steadfast day after day,
urging all to engage, no wasted energy on rage,
the naked truth cannot hide,

Bare,

Alone,

Centre stage,

a volunteer remains bent unto their duty,
a soldier still fights for right,
for life.

Note:

The soldier featured in the video below and in the work above is Dr Tom Clonan a retired army officer, author and security expert.

Soldier Still is about violence. A new dance theatre work that blends movement, text, music, real stories and real people, creating a harrowing tale of beauty and brutality. A cast of Irish and international dancers and former soldiers collaborate with an exceptional creative team to explore the viciousness, the vulnerability and the trauma of violence. Previous Artists-in-Residence at Tate Britain, award-winning Junk Ensemble have built a reputation in Ireland as dance innovators. 

“Junk Ensemble has created some of the most impressive contemporary dance in Ireland … Enthralling and exact.” The Sunday Times

Guard

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Guard.

As the rain it fell,
they stood in silent sentinel,
the youth whose life barely fills a page,
for those alas who will never age,
most gave their life on foreign soil,
where the cedar bleeds or hewn in Katangian dust.

One fell at Derrada Wood & earned his star,
one lost far out on the unforgiving sea,
borne away on Scuabtuinne,
another in distant hills of Fataurlo,
more lost in flight on that darkest night,
one more rolled in Bantry waves, seven lives for to save.

The eternal flame,
the unknown dreams,
the bronze busts and limp half mast flag,
the sympathy & sighs from those who linger and remain,
to keep a fleeting vigil as heroes sleep.

Pause for a second,
wet your eye,
think of those who lie,
where and whence they died,
did they breath with that last gasp,
wives, sons, mothers or their daughters name?

Families baring such pain,
aching loss as gun carriage rattles past,
the click of leather heel and clink of brass,
mournful last post bugle call,
rifles bark the final retort,
shock & quiver the teardrops fall,
and all is quiet,
and all is still,
as the rain falls.