Friday, April 2, 2010

A Poem of Terrorism in Belfast

Pretty sure I found this poem in a long-ago issue of The New Yorker.
Bloody Hand

Your man, says the Man, will walk into the bar like this--here his fingers
Mimic a pair of legs, one stiff at the knee--so you'll know exactly
What to do. He sticks a finger to his head. Pretend it's child's play--
The hand might be a horse's mouth, a rabbit or a dog. Five hand claps.
Walls have ears; the shadows you throw are the shadows you try to throw off.

I snuffed out the candle between finger and thumb. Was it the left hand
Hacked off at the wrist and thrown to the shores of Ulster? Did Ulster
Exist? Or the Right hand of God, saying Stop to this and No to that?
My thumb is the hammer of a gun. The thumb goes up. The thumb goes down.

--Ciaran Carson
   Belfast, 1987

There are three images here about the hand. First, the hand makes shapes in the light of the candle, as if it is the shadow play game that amuses children.

Second, Labraid of the Red Hand is an important hero in Irish literature, a man who cut off his hand to become the King of Ireland. Later, the importance Labraid placed on Irish kingship was used as a symbol of Irish self-rule against the English. It is older than "The Troubles." The Red Hand appears on the coat of arms for Ulster, the district that is Northern Ireland, capital city of Belfast.

Third, the hand with the least presence in the room, is the hand of God.
Throughout this poem, I think Mr. Carson emphasizes the hand because the mind and the heart are not to be engaged. The references to hands and play emphasize the facelessness, mindlessness, and manipulation (another hand word) necessary to commit terrorist acts. 

The poem also conveys the drama. We cannot leave any of these things out when thinking about motivated yet motiveless modern terrorism. Mr. Carson packed all this in less words then I just did. And I am sure there is more here--if anyone wants to mention--


Christopher said...

"the shadows you throw are the shadows you try to throw off."

A haunting line with room to do some mining for more meaning.

I have friends in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. I'd like to think The Troubles are waning. Hope.

Sandra said...

That's a very powerful poem, and I like your interpretation of it.

While in Ireland we found a book called CHILDREN OF THE TROUBLES (actually, it was on the book shelf of the B&B we were staying at), a non-fiction collection of stories written by young people growing up in the turbulant times.

What a time to grow up in - some of the events were only a decade ago, and it's easy to see how far they have come in ten years.

On that note, I had mentioned we had taken a bus tour. One thing the guide was very firm on was that the conflict started between political parties and the union-non-union parties...religion simply followed as those involved on both sides had already been segregated by their cultural beliefs, not first by their religious beliefs.

What an education.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
I think there is a lot in here to be mined, as you say. The part I had concentrated on just lately was the 'hand of God'. I keep noticing that it was the smiting hand, and that again, a lack of a Sign from God meant there would be no resistance from doing murder. How awful. But useful to know.

There's even more here than that--it's a really great poem and I'm glad I cut it out and saved it.

I am going to go back to the shadow part again and look for more . . .

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Sandra,
The commenter at your blog who said the Troubles were over--I was glad to get a new perspective from him too, but I though he overstated his case. As long as somebody wants those murals up, they stay up.

I had Never heard this about the unions. In-crrredible. I can see my education is very scant, for all I heard about Belfast growing up. Once again I learn I must look below the surface of the reports I get!

Christopher, I share your hope the Troubles are waning. And Sandra, I am glad they have waned enough for you to go! I have been the beneficiary!

Ann T.