We were in thrall of great things:
men sitting around television sets
talking of war, made history obsolete
at the kitchen table.

I was baptised in fire,
schoolbooks charring to ash
like clothes, hair, bone,

burnt-out skeletons of cars,
the blackened windows of buildings,

and the priest shouting behind the barricade,
Go on boys, give them one for Ireland,
as my father took his army revolver
down from the box on top of the wardrobe.

What could they teach us?
summer days we shared cigarettes
watching the ferry leaving the docks
for Liverpool

though none of us had the courage later
to act on conviction.

We sought out sanctuary
where violent death could not find us:
I found solace among the heavy breathing
the sweat and smell of animal flesh

and spied on the stable boys
blowing each other.

Even so, we had our premonitions:
a row of old houses sat at the end
of an avenue of chestnuts

on its gable wall a clock
the hands set at the wrong time –
to fool the devil.