He disappeared when children were returning
to school, waiting with patience in the chariot
we all must ride. The heart gave out sending rich
ancestral blood to four corners of a temple,
self–fashioned Grianán of Aileach. Was there a Polish
nurse nearby? She would have shown ease with
this patient poet. He was never shy of strangers.
The day of his death was a warm Irish day.
The harvest has begun here in the Maritimes.
Now each of us, for whom poetry matters,
reflect on who he was. Pulling slim, dog-eared
volumes from knapsacks and shelves, digging
words and phrases shaped from Greeks, Saxons,
Mad Sweeny amid his trees. The boy who
won the Latin prize happiest in fields and soggy fens,
true archeologist, rain and fog companions
and friends: time traveler in a teileafón Tardis he
should have been a Dublin Dr Who.
The day of his death was a warm Irish day.
He lived in the south but his true measure came
from the north. Knew his songs would
have to be sung amid suffering. Out of the muck
of bigotry, bog oak as hard as briar, reclaimed,
refashioned into heirlooms and keepsakes worthy
of Ard Rí, Donegal Drontheim builders,
buskers at the Guildhall. Lights along the Foyle
shine out for a long-boat to take him in
the wake of Colm Cille to Islay, the twin peaks
of Jura, blue, purple in the far from Greencastle
on a clear Inishowen day. Perhaps. Better maybe
to see him in Derry, in Badger’s below
the wall, nursing a pint before last call.
Ingonish to Ypres
i.m. Michael (Mick) Doyle
25th Battlion Canadian Infantry
At war for weeks till their grandmother threw it out.
No peace possible since grandpa brought it home.
Mick and Harry’s Punch and Judy Show: who could
keep Titanic on their wall. Then three years gone,
Mick transported from boyhood to Britain and Belgium;
half a village aboard unconscripted, uninformed,
giddy and grinning at their Irish Acadian luck: uniformed
grand tour, expenses paid, pocket cash to boot.
If Titanic were here she would have been a troop ship too!
Bells in St. Peter’s towers bring down leave-taking
tears, lift up in patriotic promise men who march away.
A puff of High Mass altar incense to return them safe:
Boer War memorials and Catholic Belloc’s catechistic lines
are memorized and misunderstood as William Blood
declares “Whatever happens we have got/ the Maxim Gun,
and they have not.” Only his anti-Semitic slurs fall
understood on their unstopped ears.
18 at Ypres fighting with the twenty-fifth in soft Belgian rain.
Did you pray for Westerlies on the crossing, anti-trades
shorten the voyage. It’s no Sou’Wester, Mick, you uncrumple
from your kit but a gas mask—the one we found as
children in Pearl MacGeen’s old attic. We knew no history,
so ran round the mulberry-bush-yard in high summer
heat suffocating in khaki canvas with fish-glass eyes and pig-
metal snout. Grinning, you said Herb and you were the
lucky ones but Jack Doucette almost drowned in the chlorine sea
and when he surfaced never breathed fresh air again
without a smoker’s hack and cough. Later we learned of battles:
St. Julien, Kitchener’s Wood and Paschendale and later
still in college of Fritz Harber— the man who made the gas:
German Nobel Laureate who gave the gift of fertilizer to a
starving planet then proudly pushed his mustard mix from dawn to
dusk at you Mick until seven thousand men and boys lay
twisted and writhing upon those fetid Elysian fields. His hero’s
welcome home cut short by the first German woman Ph.D,
Dr. Clara Immerwahr, his wife, a Brechtian voice out of Mother
Courage via Galileo who shot herself to expose a husband,
his genius and science in the service of slaughter. .
Demobbed in 19, who was left from the 25th the first
Nova Scotia Battalion to fight upon the front?
A handful including you and Herb only survivors of a lost
patrol. These stories you told into your eighties but
we saw Farwell to Arms on the box, watched All Quiet (twice)
saw Snoopy dogfight the Barron on Halloween then
laughed at Hogan hiding Klink’s Kaiser helmet. This was not
the Nazi war, no Captain America leapt from comics
to liberate council and console. And when we grew we learned
from priest-professors how your generation (not just
your patrol) was lost: like some Newfoundland sealers adrift
on ice, settlers in a winter mountain pass or leaderless
boy scouts forsaken on the Laurentian Sheild. It’s true you
didn’t have to hide like Vietnam vets but a shame
began at 19 and spread to everything, brought on by those
over-dogs of time who finally faced the legion of
aboriginal ghost warriors who lost their lives, limbs and status
in no-man’s-land, returning home like some Arizona
Latino to statelessness, exile, urban ghettos and alcohol.
Then empire and evil became conjoined with mercenary,
capital, colonial angst and the cultural cringe saluted as a flag
None of this mattered much Mick for you or the volunteers.
Returning, the village was as it had been: fishing boats
sailed off Middle Head, clothes were strung on the line, children
paraded in black and white for Confirmation, Caribou
roamed the barrens. But death and wounds haunted the kitchens
and parlours waiting for posterity to pass on its neglect.
The Sea Air at Middlehead
i.m. John James (Jack )Doucette 1889-1956
Gassed and wounded at the Battle of Arras, Vimy,
1917, with the 85th Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders
After the battle of Arras you wore rags round your eyes,
Jack, marching blindfolded from Vimy as if to
execution, not in Singer Sargent’s Gassed, those are Brits
and Johnny-come-lately-Yanks, for the endgame of 18.
Canadians fought long before, forever in the shadows now,
forever frozen in time with wounds and froth corrupted
lungs. In countless cenotaphs they hitch up their bronze capes,
steady their frightened horses, roll their great guns.
Did you romance Mary Helen with your days in France?
Deracinated Acadian Catholic, unlike the Irish and the
Mik’maq you could imagine fighting pour les ancêtres,
pour les vieilles cousines qui sont mortes depuis longtemps.
The fairytale land of Longfellow, Borden and bronzed Evangeline.
The Road to the Keltic Lodge of Julia Corson, Rubber Baroness,
sometime patient of faraway spas, recovered consumptive, Akron,
Ohio, come from away nurtured in the air of Ingonish. Her
delicate compromised lungs in complete remission, survivor
watching her loving Henry’s final breaths, and those old
friends who sent her North of Smokey—legendary Bells of Baddeck,
Alexander the great: his phones, planes and hydrofoils
mothballed now for museum shelves, school children, tourists.
Unlike Gatsby (that other great) his dominion over land, sea,
and air outlasted life, but labour leader MacLachlan (fellow Scot)
would see the science as non-enlightened, corrupted in
service of capital: machines for the military state of what is
present, passing and to come.
None of this mattered to you, Jack, as you and your schoolteacher
bride boarded the Aspy for Boston only to return in a year
to work the gypsum mine in our baby badlands but that closed in
28 and then in a few short breaths consumption sent you
packing as an inmate of old Point Edward, TB stigmata on your
battered lungs of Arras long since beyond the reach of the
air of Ingonish, the peace of Greencove.