They would take anything, my uncle said,
buttons, sewing thread, bits of iron from the deck
into their pockets while bartering for coal and oil
and the old man in his paper jacket
said to be the richest man on the West Coast
coming alongside the U-boats with baskets of eggs
and information, like children picking over old sores.
Those were different times, my uncle said,
We live in different times, I find myself saying
to an uncle already dead, like the ornaments he swiped
from the mantelpiece when he was too drunk to listen
as the blacked-out convoys rode the swell of his blood again.
The dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone
are still dreary, like the slack heaps
of Northern English towns, or wet motorways
or municipal graveyards, but what is love
if not to reside in another’s suffering?
With each anniversary we speak in terms of here and now
like a cold dip in Carnlough harbour
or a laughing dinghy ride in the Med
or the first day back at work
that couldn’t have ended any other way
but repeats itself like dark cloud formations
or an uncle throwing a coloured stick,
his chin clenched tight like death,
high into the sky of a lonely country road.