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James Harpur in Southword Journal


James Harpur’s forthcoming book, Angels and Harvesters, is due from Anvil Press in spring, 2012. He has published four other volumes of poetry with Anvil Press, including his latest, The Dark Age, which won the 2009 Michael Hartnett Prize. Anvil have also published Fortune’s Prisoner, his translation of the poems of Boethius. He lives near Clonakilty in West Cork.








A Churchyard Ghost in West Cork

After Horace Odes 1.28

For Rosemary Canavan and Joe Creedon



Visitor, come over here and leave

The tomb of Smith, my fellow soldier;

His ghost has long since left his bones,

Which were discreetly bedded down

Like mine in corners of this graveyard,

Our little patch of grass and stones

Among the hills we loved, and feared.

We were, you see, two Englishmen

Buried among Cotters and OLearys,

Neighbours in death, if not in life.

We may have lived a hundred years

Apart, but war remained the same

For both of us, the ambushes,

Assassinations and reprisals;

We did our duty to the death

And were disposed of in the bog

Which closed around our contours.

That Tartarean bog! It clings

To everyone without distinction,

The murderers and the murdered

The soldier and miscarried baby

Its like a great enfolding memory

Spread out across this countrys soul

Preserving identities;

And its a purgatory too

Leeching our blood and guilt and hate

To leave a husk of innocence.


Visitor, the bog returned young Smith

He surfaced from the oozing turf

Within six months; the air still sickly

With burials and grieving for the dead

And sharpened by the bitter-lipped lament,

By the valley of Keimaneigh

I live where the deer come at night

For their rest

                          and Smith was laid

Within this ancient burial place.


And as for me, Lieutenant Guthrie,

All I recall are bullets faster

Than seconds, and the Crossley tenders

Ablaze and shouts and screams,

The pulse of running for my life,

Kneeling down among some trees,

And darkness filling up my head

The sense of flowing from my body

As it was sinking in the bog.

I stayed for half a dozen years

Before my body was exhumed

Reburied in this hallowed ground

Like Smiths. A heaviness, unease,

Remains in me: I cant remember

The killings, torchings carried out

And if I dragged my heels or not.

I spend my days in endless vigil

Watching the cars and tractors pass,

People scrutinizing headstones

And couples courting in the shadows.


Visitor, please, come over here

Yes you who walk among the tombs

Towards the chapel, where youll see

The only ornament is ivy

And windows frame the flight of birds.

Come here and say a prayer for me

Or place a flower on my grave

Even a dandelion or vetch

To help me leave this world. Do this

And you will have my gratitude

And blessings; please dont refuse,

Just think if you were in my place.

You may be young but time moves fast,

Omnis una manet nox

Theres one night waiting for us all.

I know youre in a rush, but stay;

It wont take long to say a prayer

Then you can go, rejoin your life.



©2012 James Harpur




Author Links


James Harpur Homepage

Harpur at Anvil Press

Extended bio and poems at Poetry International Web







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