Peacekeeper by Michael J. Whelan

Our writers give voice to what it means to be Irish in a changing Ireland.

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Between the pages the reader will find unexpected, non-official views of conflict , ultimately, a rosary of redemption, words that needed to be said so they could taste the air.

— Maria Wallace

2016 / 80 pages / €12

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9
Cover photos: Michael J. Whelan

(click to view cover)



By Michael J. Whelan

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MICHAEL J. WHELAN joined the Irish Defence Forces in 1990, serving on tours of duty as a United Nations Peacekeeper. He has received the General Officer Commanding Irish Air Corps Award, the Paul Tissandier Diploma and the Tallaght Person of the Year Award (Arts & Culture section). Michael’s poetry has been widely published, including in The Hundred Years’ War: Anthology of Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe) and his work was the subject of a centenary of the Great War exhibition entitled Landscapes Of War & Peace 1914-2014: War Poetry & Peacekeeping. He won 2nd Place in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Awards, 3rd Place in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards and a commendation in the Carousel Creates Creative Writing Awards, as well as having received an Arts Bursary from South Dublin Arts Office. In 2012 he was selected to read at the Poetry Ireland Introductions series.

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Michael Longley reading Peacekeeper with Michael J. Whelan looking on.



It is the quiet time.
We have disturbed a hornet’s nest.
Sandbags give shape to the sand.
We fill them in pairs,
one holding the mouth open
the other bending into a bridge over the earth,
the spade lifting grains of time as they pour away,
escaping like blood from an open wound.
The rest is just history
shovelled down the neck of a hungry war feeding
on souls, a monster that’s never satisfied.

We rest now and then,
catch our breaths, switch tasks,
wipe silver beads from our foreheads with burnt forearms,
stretch our backs, curse the Gods and warmed bottled water.

We fill sandbags with the erosion of time.
Pile them, shape them and square them off
around the bunker.
Life is shorter for the hornet.

I think of its shiny green body,
remembering how it dug into the sand, pushing with its legs,
as we are digging now with shoulders arching in the sun.
The hornet is dead.

The bunker has a doorway in the shade,
a portal to the underworld
when the sky is filled with lead
and we become creatures of the dark.

The Family

There were nine of them.
Eight children under the age of ten,
existing in the rough shell
of a house with a hole in its roof
and a young mother, whose
sanity had run out.

I stood there in the bowel of
her existence,
slack-jawed in the middle
of that frozen room,
rifle under my arm.
It was Christmas time at home.

How do I sort this out?
No one can threaten hunger with bullets.

Tiny hands were in my pockets.
I gave her my watch.