They’ve bought the stars down from the sky
and planted them in the tress,
draped constellations across the walls,
light tripping pass tall windows.
We imagine tourists might call it
the fanciest roundabout in Europe.
In Belfast, all roads lead to City Hall.
Travel deeper to find out its secret,
a further roundabout inside:
the Whispering Gallery, sound defying space,
voices curling pass marble and alter.
Under the dome, I hear all the voices of Belfast
speaking as one: all their hopes and fears
cradled within this heavy concrete warden.
A cragged crown upon Belfast
you stand, regarded wiser than
the cranes, our dear old mountain man;
for you will never know rust
nor flee, eroded down to sand
to hang, trailing on bricked air, and
ingrain the beat of creaking breaths,
of city folk and their folly.
You reign over lough and valley,
over our lives, our wasteful deaths;
across the span of years, you will
remain unchanged, ever Cavehill.
Your face is known, yet knowing, hard,
for every man who scans to see
comforts in nature’s industry
beyond the ports, the quays, shipyard;
the night is but your shadow cast
over the meadows of Belfast.
River and stone, the shrub and shale
compose a simple majesty
encrusted by such greenery;
lough and meadow, all come to hail
nobility’s proud boast of height:
you mark the day, you are the night.
The clouds break like departing ghosts.
Count the red lights. Count the lampposts.
Count how many miles until home,
the engine-dirge of a slow hymn
sung through the tarmac, those clogged staves
cloistered with tunes; how each note scathes
against each other, near-tribal,
a threnody of late arrival.
Somewhere, still, there is countryside
ignored by motorways, those wide
expanses amid lanes of notes
where people breathe, where music floats
between the horns, roar and rattle,
the stillness of easy travel.
Crumlin Road Gaol
That’s the first cell they introduce you to
before anything of lock and bars.
Each brick laid down here is a sentence,
asking for repentance,
receiving only history.
It’s a curious fame, being hung.
Better that, than they attempt
to beat the sin out of me
like some soiled carpet, whacked
until cleanliness reappears.
The baton. The birchwood. The cat.
A few years ago, I could have been
the eighteenth man. Now my name
stays on a death list I’ll never see.
A total of 17 men were hanged at Crumlin Road prison between 1854 and 1961. The death penalty was abolished in 1973 as part of the Emergency Provisions Act.