Hunger Strikers

And there was banging on the bins that night
and many frightened people woke
and noted down the hour.
The clock of hunger-strikers dead is not ignored with ease
and ‘please, God, please keep loved ones safe’ was then
repeated round and round and round
like rosaries told upon a bead,
or shoes upon the ground of orange walking.

The five demands, the five-year plan
that saw a blanket round a man,
the dirty protest, Thatcher stance,
that gave a new and startling glance
at just how deep a people’s fury goes.
And God knows each single mother’s son
was sick of hunger,
all those younger faces became stripped and old
eyes shrunk back and foreheads cold & bold
with skin that’s limp and paper thin,
barely separating blood and bone from stone.

And some did say ‘enough is now enough’
and others said that ‘never, never, never will a martyr die,
he’ll smile upon us long from mural’s wall.’
And others said ‘what nation’s this?
we’re abandoned on our own—
all this for clothes to warm some dying bones.’
And some said ‘that’s a traitor’s talk’
and others bowed their heads and thought that they
would hate to go that way.

Then Bobby Sands was dead
and there was banging on the bin lids on the Falls
echoed through to Shankill gospel halls.
And there was trouble on the street that night
and black flags started hanging while
people started ganging up,
black flags marking out the borders of belonging
the thin black barricade
that’s been around for thirty years
and stayed a fragile point up till today and cries
of how ten mothers’ sons all starved and died
when all they ate was hope and pride

“Hunger Strikers” Originally published in Sorry for your Troubles (Canterbury Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.