Cookstown, Spring 1987

Down one side of the road, I walked

with my mother, clean neck

and well-pressed dress,

my eyes too large,

too knowing; between footsteps,

I heard my mother’s breath

catch on the

barbed wire

and I saw a dark green man

with a gun


like the ones from TV shows, where men would spray bullets and blood

across walls like death confetti,

and my father would say

it wasn’t real, and the

Incredible Hulk wasn’t real –

but this man wore green

and he walked towards us

with a gun


and my heart was only

the size of my fist and

it couldn’t beat hard enough;

when I looked at my mother’s

chest it was still,

heavy as the sandbags

at the crossroads,

dead torsos in white sacks.


We stopped moving and

he was there,

the dark green man

with a gun,

above my head, like God


and I wondered if God wore green

– until he looked down and stared,

held me in his gaze,

distilled my image,

and he spoke

in a voice that had cracks

up the middle,

that knew stories by heart

and the soft hollow of absence.


My mother’s chest eased

into its usual gentle rhythm, and

there we were, across from the

army barracks, on the edge of

the division line, bridged by

the tenderness of recognition. 

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