The thing I notice noticing’s the font
in the Historical Enquiries Team Report.
It’s Comic Sans. Comic Sans!
(And what style do I think all this demands?)
Oh font of parish news and Christmas fares
so loathed by Appleites in Arial!
Oh target of all parody! (Now mass-produced
on mugs: I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.
Thirteen bucks). Garamond’s antithesis –
butt of all jokes and nil finesse.
I picture the Grafton recruit who’s tasked
with type face – Pick and convert – asked
to choose from a dozen fonts. Readable’s the brief.
Something to ballast (before grief
engulfs me on the seventh page)
this dizzying display (a reportage
cocktail I try to throw straight back)
of fact on (is it?) fact on (is it?) fact
with just enough gravity and grace
to keep me reading. A style of type face
for pellucid prose, print-ready
from the get-go, serif free
and spaced for certain possibilities
in this state-sponsored textual history.
What will survive of us, I think, is love
of fonts like this. Times, Proxima Nova.
Oh starry night in Clarendon! Bauhaus
or something more Pragmatica. Our trust
in something other than the words.
The word-hoard gone to ground, we herd
these altered bits and pieces in authentic
looking lines hoping textual pyrotechnics
mask our longing, lack, our state of being sans
(without comedy – tragedy?; in the absence of –).
It says I was three (born on a Tuesday)
and stood by mum beside the car (as every day –
looking underneath for cats, as then it seemed).
A stray apostrophe distracts me
from the shots recorded next, the shouts
and screams etcetera… Cut to me, out
in the open (my father on the ground), then heeding
(‘wounds to his head and chest and bleeding
from the nose and ears’ – the ears?) mum’s cries
to go inside the house. I’m mesmerised
by all of this – a list of every character
and the parts they play: photographer,
pedestrian, neighbour (one and two) and coroner,
the school boy at the kitchen counter
glancing up. And then the ‘laceration of the brain’
under ‘Post Mortem’. They write it out again
under ‘Inquest’. From lacerare, ‘mangled, torn’
(no rhyme for that, I know, but do read on).
And Tuesday’s child is full of grace, enough
to heed his plea that, mum and me, we love –
love our enemies no less, and turn
the other cheek, and turn our loss to burning
up our grief in crazed forgiveness.
Out of our minds, as is proper, misgivings
at this plan we swallowed up, and set to work
violently loving. When a person buried in the dirt
asks this from beyond the grave, you answer
(if answer is the word for what I try)
with Romans eight verse thirty-eight and nine
(ten negations there – neither, nor, nor, nor)
to anyone who asks, and even those who don’t
but catch my mother’s story passing by
(no need to stop) the gospel stall outside
the Crescent church (Sat, Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri).
‘Nothing can separate me from the Love of God
in Christ Jesus Our Lord’. Nothing can, indeed.
I am guided by Google, my mother by Christ.
Awake most nights, I click and swipe.
I search and find Bill McConnell Paint and Body.
Under new management!!!!! Northeast Tennessee.
Where is God in a Messed-up World? Inside the Maze.
(My phone flashes up a message like a muse.)
Straight & Ready: A History of the 10th Belfast
Scout Group. (35) (PO) (IRA)
– for more and a photograph, push this link>>
the maroon death icon on CAIN.ulst.ac.uk
You visited this page on 06/02/15.
And here I am again.
And in The Violence of Incarceration
(Routledge, 2009), eds. Phil Scraton
and Jude McCulloch (page thirty-three), he
‘oversaw, but later denied in court, the brutality
of prison guards, [and] was executed by the IRA
on the 8 March 1984.’ (He’d been dead two days
by then.) Execute. Late Middle English:
from Latin exsequi ‘follow up, punish’.
There’s a listing on victims.org.uk,
‘an [sic] non-sectarian, non-political’ nook
complete with Union Jack and Ulster flag
campaigning pics, the Twitter feeds and tags,
a calendar and videos. Powered by WordPress.
And then there’s Voices from The Grave (and this
one’s hard to bear, though can I say so? I don’t know.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.)
I won’t write down the page. But something in me,
seeing that crazed portrait – something’s relieved.
February 2015. A leaflet
on a table announces the event.
The speaker is the speaker who would speak
before my mum. Watch ye. The flesh is weak
(no matter what the spirit’s done). Heaven
his topic. Romans to Revelation.
(I wish it was all made up, all this stuff.)
‘Purpose in Paralysis’ the alliterative
tagline. Author of Where is God…?, Why me?,
Blessed are the Dead Who Die in the Lord (more certainty
that time) and something called Grill a Christian.
How he found mum and made us his mission
I still don’t understand. The story ran:
Murder, Grief, Forgiveness, Grace. And again.
Once more with feeling. Once more for TV.
This time for radio (Christian – UCB).
I love the thought of grace. But grace
was not what I was given. Or at least
not what I got from those strange years. Out here,
in my fourth decade, and in Belfast, near
to where this story started (‘It’s all
in my head’, I said, banging a piano –
these lyrics punctuate so many thoughts)
the learning, therapy, and books I’ve brought
to bear on my experience pile up.
(I could play narcissist/messiah. Take this cup.)
I’m out of time and out of pocket, out
of mind, a little, too and still I mouse
around the web, a Casaubon in search
of who knows fucking what. The earth
is the Lord’s and everything in it. Us,
and all we Google. Us, our doubts and loves,
as one man put it – a title borrowed
from a poem. With tea we spoke of sorrow
and desire when we met
in Enniskillen – Calvin, Job and Beckett,
MacNeice’s Stranger in the wings,
cracks and splits appearing on the surface of the real, things
break down first, then bloom. Dissolution, degradation.
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.
Sixth of March. Sixth of March. Sixth of March
again. If only this dactylic charge
could do something. Not the valley of Death,
exactly, this suburban street in the east.
Affluent, gentrified, café culture
thrives – lattes, babycinos – whereby culture
(properly defined)’s consumption. Graze,
Il Pirata, M&S, No. 36,
The Halt. Come dine in BT4!
Upper East. Belmont. Ballyhackamore
(which means, of course, townland of all the shit,
where tied-up horses paced and champed the bit
to get back to where they came from). Giro
d’Italia blazed a pink snake trail through here (no
shops but painted shop-fronts showed
things worth buying on the Newtownards Road
– lower, I mean now. BT5. Copy
trade in paint. Cover over vacancy.
Council-sponsored simulacra ring-fence
these rooms, these lives – defenceless –
as sales in Iceland thrive and the 3A
goes up and down and down this road all day.
I buy bread and pay with plastic and capital
flows on in dreams through time transcontinental.)
The toast rack’s metal half loops cast a shadow
on the table – almost ouroboros
but not quite. Anyway, sixth of March.
We drive to Roselawn. Me and mum. Trees arch
the paths before us and behind. 35
(I do a quick subtraction) when he died –
the age I’ll be this year. There’s a fresh mound,
parched and greyish, three graves down.
They missed their five-year anniversary
by three days. I see her by the yew tree
out the front. No cards. No gifts of wood.
No coastal breeze and Balearic mood.
Instead she stood in line with shorts and shirts
she’d bought for him, offering the receipt
with mumbled apology. My husband’s
(dead) – I need to return these. Thanks. Thanks. And
no – yes, the refund please. No departure.
No getaway. The moment it starts
to make sense – the moment sense slips away.
Nothing. Nothing left to say.
Where nothing, maybe grace. Only this I know:
my mother holding to her chest his clothes
and that department store’s fluorescent glow
and every trace she noticed noticing
of him at home, while I played on my own
or read or slept and she sat up alone.
Focused on the Future, pst
in lower case (that’s Prison Service Trust).
6th March 2015. (Coincidence?
Or triggered by a Calendar of Incidents?)
Dear Gail, (no serifs) As the son/daughter
(no proofread) of a murdered officer
our criteria clearly states that all
children remain clients of the Trust (call
it that, with a cap, and it seems like something
I could put my faith in or belong in)
indefinitely. If I wasn’t clear
before, perhaps I should be now. Dear…
was not how it began. His final words
a public statement/letter. An afterword
written weeks before. The subject: ‘My demise’
so less a letter than a note. A counter-clockwise
telling, an auto-elegy of sorts. (After Hennessy,
the PGA, the gunman, there’s mum and me
commended to your keeping). I’m struck by nothing
once again. ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing
Less…’ – first their wedding, then his funeral.
This wish for solid ground. This vulnerable
testimony – darkness, storms and floods
frailty, nakedness, sheer exposure – and a love
that answers choral calls for some foundation.
That hymn gives voice to so much isolation,
modern longing, love, and in full rhyme: frame/name
face/grace, blood/flood, stand/sand, way/stay, veil/ gale.
I grew up to these verses, on the blue
itchy carpet tiles (they’d pulled out all the pews)
of a tiny Baptist church. There is a green hill
far away, without a city wall.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years; Abide
with me; fast falls the eventide.
The arrow flits across the screen. I type
titles into engine boxes, flick from tab
to tab, from text to hypertext,
a hymnody cross-referenced with itself
and itself only. Confusing, this circuitry.
News without integrity, fauxetry,
just search, then it’s command c, command v
and sift a bit to generate new poetry.
And generate is now the verb we use
since artistry is dead, authority abused
and empathy deeply uncool.
(To say all this, I know, is so uncouth.)
The great paradox of poetry,
he said, is ‘faced with the brutality
of the historical onslaught’ (this in ’86)
poetry, the arts, are ‘practically useless’.
From Greek praktikos, ‘concerned with action’.
Not instrumental, not productive, not
impactful. The writing in the sand
(ephemeral, no solid Rock in sight
or plea for higher ground on which to stand)
is all, and what happens ‘in the rift’.
‘Practically useless’. This is the gift
we can choose to ignore for algorithm
content and ready-made form. Lyricism
would be the rhyme for that but I’m ranting,
I can feel it. That’s not what I’m wanting.
It’s just the line these days between privacy
(that tricky thing) and piracy
is so hard to make out. Reproducing
afterlives ad infinitum, loosening
the faith we had (had we?) in autonomy,
etymology, things well made (knowing all is vanity)
searching, sharing, linking, tracing
selves, pasts, fathers, scouring texts fixated.
13 inches – 4 million pixels –
I can’t see your face.
The HET’s been closed for months
having had its own enquiry, then the cuts.
The repository’s the size, they say, of a B&Q
and surely as confusing and unstaffed. ‘Aisle 2
for photographs of victims
and as for case files you can pick them
from those bins in section 6’ the discontented
ghosts direct. What system they invented
is beyond me. 3000 piles (and more) of paper,
each typed and bound in plastic makes it data.
Data into Comic Sans as though medium
is no matter, as though it isn’t egg and chicken.
My focus on the font’s a distraction,
I’m aware. I’ve still not read the middle section:
forensics, arrests, releases, sentences
I haven’t seen. Simple past and past continuous.
Who did what to whom and why’s not for us to ask.
Act normal. Act as though the forty death masks
spelling HOPE at Short Strand/Albertbridge
are incidental. History’s tectonic drift, a moving ridge.
The word I’ve tried hard not to use is murdered
(it puts people on edge and sounds absurd
in my own mouth). Verbs downplaying agency
are best – died, was killed and, most recently,
lost. All those Lost Lives. To lose one’s a misfortune,
two looks like carelessness. It may be a distortion
of Wildean proportions to say I lost my father
cos we’re all, you know, like part to blame and too far
into the future now, post-’98, to turn (again),
to see, in this decade of centenaries (dot com)
the terrible state of chassis still unmourned.
‘The whelming flood’. I was forewarned.
A form that’s large enough to drown
in. I turn the ring-bound file face down.
I lift my tumbler’s lip to mine
and set its rim on top. Nothing cupped.
The magician’s ball, scooped up
by sleight of hand, he presses to his palm
as gawkers pause, finger the baize,
demand the trick again. I negated grace,
though I wrote it seven times.
That makes eight. I could try to realign
things, like I do my spine.
I fold, unfold; coil, uncoil; crease, uncrease.
Inhale and open. Exhale: release.
We skipped the mourning for Romans 8:
divine paternity, clinging to the Spirit.
‘Let no one be alarmed as to my eternal Security’
he wrote. Securitas. Without concern, free
from care. I’m 35. My childhood home’s been sold again.
I lie in shadows cast by streetlights through the rain
in a room of sweaty strangers in corpse pose.
A note in Comic Sans reads ‘Turn to close’.
[Gail McConnell is Lecturer in English at Queen’s University Belfast and is currently working on her first collection of poems. ‘Twenty Three Fifteen’ appeared in The Manchester Review, Issue 14. She is the author of Northern Irish Poetry and Theology (Palgrave, 2014), a contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry (OUP, 2012), and has articles forthcoming in boundary 2 and Irish University Review. She is also a co-editor of The Irish Review and reviews poetry for a number of journals.]
Copyright © 2016 by Gail McConnell, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.