Sands on the River Road
**In memoriam to the 33 years which have passed since Bobby's death, Mr Ron Lay-Sleeper has asked to post his poem which he wrote in honour of Bobby Sands during his hunger strike, and immediately after his death.
There was wet snow in the light of the headlamps
In the dark nights of February,
Freezing rain turning the road into a treacherous
Living beast, testing at every turn
The automatic clichés of driving.
On such a night, illuminated by the inward burning
Fire of patriotism, he unwinds the cord,
Lets slip the thread,
Dares the minotaur in its lair.
Up here in the hills, the valleys are narrow,
The roads, thin black arrows shot through
Swamp and ledge, the creeks cold and dark
Where they run through the forest.
He begins the juggernaught drive,
Takes Communion of salt and water—
No bread—and his flesh begins
To shrivel and waste.
The roads of the north follow the rivers
And their smaller tributaries to the height of land,
Cross the divide, follow other watercourses down:
Beaver pond, alder swamp, rivers running,
Rushing down toward Mother Ocean.
Such are the choices we make—
Committing ourselves to a course of action,
Victims of our decisions like a river
Breaking down its banks.
Where the obdurate stupidity of power
Meets the stubborn abstinence of flesh,
Beyond a certain point
Of honor, hunger, sanity
He cannot, will not,
Alter the course.
There is the road and the river
And the land between.
The road is a compromise—it replaces
Natural difficulties with fabricated
The life of the road differs
From the life of the river.
River life stays mostly to itself
But sometimes wanders
Onto the highway,
Is selected by the road,
Displayed in anatomical
Along the asphalt.
As the capillaries die
The skin blackens
The ocular fluid dries up
And in his blindness
The vision grows.
The roots are interlaced. Life flows
Up and down
The river and the road.
Paths cross, intertwine.
What drives us—what force? What
Steps do we take in false assurance.
There is the slow and steady burgeoning
Of the heart’s attraction.
In ritual passage, eyes meet
He cannot walk.
The locking of steps in the age-old dance
He cannot see parents, wife.
They place him on a waterbed
To ease the pain.
A softly-phrased question—
“Will you eat?”
A look, a smile.
He cannot see.
The gums shrink
From bloody teeth.
Assured beauty of flesh,
Supple, brown and warm.
They taped the flesh of his joints
So the bones
Would not break through.
Lock step, nose to hock,
Treading the hoof-worn path
To barn at dusk
Or dawn-wet meadow,
Yoked to the bones
And thoughts of our forebears,
Demands of our time,
We herd and pack
In endless factions:
Politics, religion, economics:
“The man’s a martyr—
“The tapes and waterbed
“His nails and cross.”
Rope Steel Plastic bombs
“Martyr? Terrorist! Murderer!
Do we not, like the river,
Follow old trails
Across the treacherous road,
Follow a natural arc,
A transcendent curve?
The new moon lies
With the old moon in its arms;
The rainbow follows the storm.
There is a dark side of the moon—
A traitor on one side’s
A martyr to the other.
We yearn for anonymity
Until we become
Flickering ghosts of our own desire,
All fat gone
Christ’s image burned on a robe,
Shadows etched on the paving stones
Voices of the night
3rd and 4th voices
The trillium blossom smells
Like putrid meat,
It attracts life only to die, to reseed itself.
Torching the flames of kindred hungers,
The final taper wavers.
What specters walk
Before the lowering curtain
Of his dimming life?
“Come, Bobby, you’ll be late for school!”
All the dogs have rubber teeth
On the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Gone from mind the faces of youth
Murdered on the highways.
Gasoline alley, back where I belong.
The stars slip from the firmament,
In the steady flow of time.
He lost his mind and his body died.
A black orchid tossed
On a smoldering peat fire.
A shudder passed through Belfast,
Golgotha of the Emerald Isle,
Her prisons mortared
With martyrs’ blood.
In Dublin round
The Martello tower wreathes the ghost
Of Molly Bloom.
In smoky London
Old Blake weeps in his child’s heart
“The marks of weakness, marks of woe.”
What aureate soul leapt up,
What birds sang that morning
At the death of another Irish martyr?
Elephants died that their tusks might house
Saints’ bones; the whisker of a mouse
Limns the angels
Dancing on a pin.
Voices 2, 3, 4, 5
He died in the spring
On a day when shaky-legged colts
Hardened their bones
In the sun, wind, and clouds of May.
Passion born of love and anger—
Stepping off the edge of the highway
Plunging into underbrush along the river
We find soft mud banks,
Willow, elm, fern and alder,
Track of raccoon, song of warbler,
A carpet of bloodroot, green palms clasped
In supplication about the flower
Which bleeds when broken.