Catching the last train on any Sunday night,
when I was a student, before The Troubles,
they would be there. I would notice them
in noisy farewells clustered near the bar:
the men, red faced, shouting companionably
with the drink, the women calming kids –
the cardboard suitcases, the carrier bags.
Changing at Crewe, there would be more of them
to join us for the early Irish Mail –
refreshment bars and ill-lit platforms full
of bothered, now silent travellers.
One night – the Mail, as usual, delayed –
an old man, in a black overcoat,
gripping a scuffed doctor’s bag, its clasp
tarnished, turned to me, saying, in a soft
Dublin accent, ‘British Railways ought to be
bombed!’, and chuckled at what he must have thought
was our shared history and a past gone.
With them, waiting on the platforms or jostling
for seats, I felt close, whether real or imagined,
to centuries of unremitted wrongs
held so fresh in memories that it must seem
only yesterday the Black and Tans patrolled,
just a week since the potatoes failed,
a month since Cromwell’s hard-faced soldiery
massacred the innocents at Drogheda.
Leaving the train a few stops after Crewe,
I would think of their now unbroken way,
through a slate-black countryside, to embark
for somewhere they knew was home – and envy them
such modest certainty.