One minute it’s sucking us up
into the sky of imagination.
Another minute it’s pushing us down
into the septic trough.
Blue is the human colour
– torn in contrasting directions
[If you can’t see the player below, click here]
They are dead
my verse is blank
my spirit violated
my heart hurt
What can my verse do?
What can my fingers do?
What can my flesh do?
What can the atoms and molecules of my shape do?
A lot …
a huge amount:
I can stand
I can hold out my hand
I can be compassion.
There is a lot I can do
I am not helpless
in the face of massacre
I am not helpless.
Alongside the dead,
I am not powerless
I can love
I can be kindly to others
I can be generous
I can be compassionate
Though my verse is blank
has no rhyme
though the rhythm be uneven
though the metre be hard to find
I am strong enough
I have the courage to be human
to be mixed-up
to have mixed feelings
to be at sixes and sevens
to be lost.
I have the power to find myself
I’ve done it before.
There have been other massacres
There have been other assassinations
My heart has been injured
my feelings hurt
I have been attacked
I have been close to death.
I have strength enough to be human with the people of Paris, the people of France the people of Europe, the people of the whole world
I have that strength
I have the strength to remember I am a human.
I may not have died in Paris
but my humanity has been disturbed
Rest in peace.
This poem was first composed on the audio you can listen to above.
The photograph is of “Peace for Paris”, an illustration by the French graphic designer Jean Jullien
He could have been on Sherkin, Inishbofin, Skelligs or even Rathlin…
He was an outlaw, cast away from the land,
away from his people.
His face didn’t fit,
his family were not from the right side of town.
There was no time for him, he could rot there.
Eventually his spirit would break,
he would comply, he would conform,
he would be broken
– or so they thought…
It would teach them,
it would show them not to meddle with our family,
not to get above themselves.
Yea, 27 winters on Sherkin
27 springs on the Skelligs
27 summers on Rathlin
27 years of nightmares on any island you fancy.
It was good to keep him there, disappeared.
Our family had need of safety,
his family were dangerous,
thugs, revolutionaries, communists, rapists.
oh yea, uncouth, uncivilised, Untermenschen.
Our family is special,
we have survived our own wars.
We’re used to feeling superior
our family before all families
our tribe before all tribes
our village – the white man’s burden
Everyman is an island
We have not balked at blood sacrifice
We have buried our enemies in unmarked graves
– even displayed corpses to teach families how to behave themselves
We survived war against an Empire of superior force – that gave us backbone.
That gave us good enough reason to turn the tables on families of inferior beings.
Oh yes, our family is special – forever.
You will not leave that island
You will languish in your dreams
You will scratch your balls
You will scrape the fleas in your hair
You will freeze your bollocks off.
We will control you.
When we let you out – it will be to die.
Our family is ordained to carry the burden of ruling this land.
Yes, your family is bigger than our family
Your family’s so big it’s disgusting.
Your people are everywhere – but your people are worthless
– we’ve made sure of that.
The sea the sea the sea
the waves the wind, the ocean, the cold
the fish the seaweed the waves the wind the cold the ocean
the seaweed the waves the wind the cold the ocean the seaweed
Eat your heart out Islandman – we have you.
Oh yes, we’ve had you now for 27 years.
How did you pull through?
Are you coming off that island?
Are you coming to take our land from us?
Are coming to obliterate us, are you coming to wipe us out?
are you coming to leave a bloodbath?
are you going to come off the island
like an avenging angel – the Assyrian descending on the fold?
are you going to be the Inquisition?
are you going to be ethnically cleansing us?
are you going to force our children to leave?
are you gonna split up all that we’ve created among so many people and leave everybody with hardly anything?
Who are you?
who are you after?
who are you after festering anger resentment?
you must be a walking bomb
you must be a walking terrorist
you must be a killer of all of our dreams.
I see you now, we see you now, step ashore
I must say you look rather good after 27 years.
If I’d been there for 27 years I probably wouldn’t have stood up as well as you look
maybe your family has got some kind of metal in your DNA?
maybe you’re just bloody tough?
who are you Islander?
who are you warrior?
what’s in your mind?
what’s in that heart?
Why should we trust you?
the only thing we can trust is our own fear.
yes, we’re outnumbered
yes, your family is bitter.
What are those words forming in your mouth?
what’s that look in your eye?
what’s that breath from your nostril?
You’re walking towards us,
are you coming to wipe us out?
now your time has come
now every other bastard has abandoned our family
left us alone
left us isolated
left us rejected
Yea, we were at the forefront of fighting for what we believed in,
for what we thought others believed in.
yes we were the top dogs once,
yea we’re lepers
my family is spat on
my family is rejected
no one from my family can get married into any other family.
And you will inherit the earth.
I expect you’ll get revenge now
you’re coming across
you’re coming ashore, you’re coming inland.
What’s that you hold in your hand?
what are you doing with your hands?
towards whom are you
You don’t mean to offer me a hand
you cannot mean to stretch out a hand.
It’s a trick.
You want to persuade me you are a friend
come from 27 years of incarceration
on that …
on Sherkin, on Boffin, on Skelligs
You want me to believe that that’s a genuine hand?
as soon as you grip my hand you’ll pull me under
you’ll squash me to death.
that’s what I’d do if I was in your position.
You want my hand.
your hand is warm
your eye is warm
you are forming words
you are looking over my shoulder
beyond where I stand
you are looking beyond my family
You have brought a flag with you
a towel, a canopy, a rug,
something that will go over everybody.
You expect me to join you
you expect me to work with you
you expect me not to run and hide
you expect me to accept you
you expect me to be your partner
And you will not take everything from me?
you will leave me with my money intact?
you will leave me with my capital acquired?
you will leave me with some shred of self-respect?
God it feels like you’re offering me a route to Salvation
Where the hell have you come from?
where the hell did you become like this?
You stretch out a hand of friendship
a hand of warmth, a hand of the future
to my family.
You restrain your family from eating me alive
you restrain others from decimation
you prefer us to be together than all go down.
You are serious?
what kind of a resurrection is this?
what stones have you rolled back?
what cave have you come from?
what sort of Heaven on earth are you trying to create?
When you were on that island, and I was on the mainland,
you were a small guy.
you were locked up in a place where I didn’t have to see your eyes
where I didn’t have to feel your hand.
but now I cannot avoid you
I cannot ignore you
I cannot step away from you.
That island: Sherkin, Inishbofin, the Skelligs, Aran Islands, the Saltees, Lambay, Rathlin…
– they’re all our islands.
we’ve always used islands to lock inferior beings away out of sight.
now those islands have turned everything inside out,
have turned everything on its head.
I don’t know what to say
I don’t know where to look
I’ve embarrassed by your strength, by your courage
by your power
and you know what the worst thing is?
you’re so bloody humble
you are so bloody humble
you offer warmth, friendship
you offer togetherness
you offer hope
you offer a future
My children – they don’t have to die
my children – they don’t have to run
our children can play together.
Where have you come from?
What happened to you
on that island?
Is there any chance I can do 27 years on that same island?
The Unknown Unknown…
We are all the creators
all families creators
all individuals creators
Any chance we can all do 27 years on the island?
The end of the beginning.
Written in honour of my hero Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013)