My Mother, My Life; Divided by War; Suspicion

Three poems illustrated by photography from my 1978 performance art piece 'Walking Blind Belfast'.

I spent a year learning how to use a white stick from a friend who’d been blinded in an explosion. I’d been wounded in an explosion myself during what was called ‘The Troubles.’ So now, as an art student at Belfast’s University of Ulster, I created a performance where bandages occluded my eyes.

Art helps us think on our reflexive actions. As Northern Ireland’s civil war spiraled badly out of control, I choose regular days to perform ‘Walking Blind’ in the streets of Belfast.

My Mother, My Life

Their feet are guns,
their eyes are bullets in my lungs. 
From Remember Spain by Robert Galvin.

Sunday morning darkens. The phone rings. They threaten again,
say they’ll throw my body into The Black Water. My bones stiffen, heart freezes.
I have nine lives. I am a walking miracle. Will the lioness save me?
Pressured to Mass by my father’s side, bribed by a petite fit new gabardine coat
epaulettes and belt.
Oh, come home fearless woman before dangerous barrels open fire
and you find my flesh torn in pools of blood.
I don’t want to be buried, I forgot to tell you. Cremated. Make a bed of straw,
a gurney of ash wood, set it alight. Push this funeral pyre on to Lough Neagh.
I will watch the Antrim hills step off into whiteness, and will follow.

A red Cortina approaches the lane, turns on the street, our Nissan on its tail.
Navy coated woman dismounts, stands by the driver’s door, stands and stands again.
Windows roll down, my father resolute by the passenger side A gun points out.
She presses her chest against it. Positions held for an eternity.
Slowly the Cortina reverses its’ cowardly wheels along the side of the house.
My heart closes and opens.
I hear her voice: ‘No one will touch a hair on your head, daughter so long as there’s breath in my body.’ Stops my trembling. Mother makes tea.

I bury myself in her shatterproof coat.

Divided by War

We pull the curtains,
avoid the world outside,
bathe each other
in a silence hard to bear.
You want to pretend
we are just the same
and rise above it.
We have our love,
and lives of uncertainty,
the impossibility

I know so well.


Hearts tighten in terror
hushed by an occupying force.
Trust sinks in fiery nights.
Suspicion of everyone
even themselves.
No one comes unless they belong
to the family, the clan.
Cries drowned out by gunfire,
souls darken, a fog closing in.
It isn’t the strangeness that petrifies,
but the unknown depth.
Years of whispering.

Years of being voiceless.