Boon companions

by John Boland

(for John Coyle)

You can see them still, shadows
of the men my father might have met
sixty long years ago among the snug
and smoky parlours of Dublin pubs.

He chose not to. Other servants,
civil or not, of the state they were in
found solace, chance companions
and some cheer amid the porter,

Players and punning of these palaces
of wisdom, but he dutifully came home
from a day and often a night ministering
to justice, murmuring to my mother

of Mr Aiken, Mr Traynor and Mr Berry,
of border manoeuvres and Dail debates
that sometimes went on far too long,
and saw us safely to our early sleep.

I think of him often, but I think, too,
of these men, these straitened toffs,
sardonic artists, irresolute rebels
and treasonable clerks, their holy hours

bonded by ash and booze and badinage,
and wonder what failure of nerve or hope
led them to this kindness of strangers,
this fleeting comfort, and wonder also

why I, who never was my father’s son,
am so anxious for their casual approval
and hanker to sidle up to them and say:
so, gentlemen, and what is it you’re having?

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