Northern Ireland

September by stephenherronold

The late afternoon sun
Lays upon the leaves just right,
Evoking green from long ago,
Light from faraway.

The cooling days of autumn,
The end of endless summer,
Staring at the sun-painted green world
From a different classroom window.

After school,
We'd make the most of the deep blue evenings
Watching the sun set behind Cave Hill.
We're suddenly in shadow (the warm into cold of the air),
The new and old scent of peat fires relit
For the first time in ages.

We trade sunlight for streetlight.
Growing up in the dull orange glow
Of sodium vapor.
Sullenly railing against the end of the day,
Before my mum calls me home.

Soon there will be more night, less light.
Frosty dark mornings.
Up far too early,
Walking to the bus stop on the Antrim Road.
The streets are icy, but the passing gritter
Assaults both road and boy.
Just an insult added to injury.

September was the start of our year, back then.

Belfast by stephenherronold

It was the big smoke
The one and only city
Gigantic and sprawling
(Or so we thought)
A thousand different places,
But one place.

The name rang
With promise. 
The distant thunder rumbled
From over the hill
As parts of the city
Were turned into dust.

That didn't matter to me
A trip downtown
Meant so many things.
Leisureworld's endless treasures
Woolworth's and Boot’s
Bookshops and Argos
Movies with my dad or gran
Always something new

Later, I went to school there
The city center was too close
A brighter, more tempting place
That still sang to my senses.
Until I moved to a place
A little too far away.

Later still, we reclaimed the city
Driving down weekly or more
The brand new glass and steel
Better cinemas and restaurants
Discovering the city all over again.

Eventually I lived there
A small nameless house
In the shadow of the building
Where I came into the world
Living out the same
Heartbreaks and triumphs
As everyone else.

That’s when I felt it.
Belonging to the place
Just as it belonged to me.
A connection going back
To before I was born.

Eventually I left.
Another post-industrial city on a Great Lake
Trading saltwater for fresh
Leaving Cave Hill behind

Sometimes I go back
Haunting the streets
Like an absentee ghost.
Always a hint of guilt
And wonder.

Barberism by stephenherronold

Red and white stripes
Tell us we're there.

My father walks me up
The creaking wood stairs
Bent here and there
From the leaden feet
Of ten thousand shaggy men.

At the top of the hill,
A line of strangers sit
Reading "Punch"
Or old newspapers
All men.
This is the Barber's,
Not a hairdressers.

The paintings on the wall are for sale.
The place smells of old man,
Of hair tonic and stringent things, 
A hint of alcohol and aftershave

I see blades.
Sharp things. 
Devices for cleaning.
It feels like a doctor's office.
Nothing good ever happens there.

The snickersnack of steel, 
Scissors sneak around, 
Cutting, biting, snipping,
The tense anticipation
Of careless nick and stab.
Sitting on a small bench
Balanced across the arms Of the giant chair
That I'll fill one day,
But today, I'm only six.

His fingers are a vice
Ice-cold, in control.
Turning my head
This way and that.
In silence.
It hurts.

I stare back at the be-cloaked boy
In the mirror.
The scissor-man doesn't see him.
Just hair to be cut.

The black and white tiled floor
Looks like an endless chessboard, 
Ten thousand fallen soldiers
Scattered all around.

They get brushed away at the end.

Shopping Trip by stephenherronold

Five years old.
Wide-eyed in the city.

Wrapped up against the drab grey cold,
My mother's hand pulls me through
The dreary sullen streets.
Boarded-up shop windows
Await new glass.
Metal gates block the streets
From everything but the buses.

This all seems normal to me. 
Wondrous, in fact.
Compared to what? I'm only five.

Getting into the city center
Means walking a gauntlet
Of English accents, uniforms, guns.
I'm patted down, like my mum.
The man tousles my hair with genuine affection.
He might be dead a week from now.

Grey things growl past,
Followed by armoured things.
Metal, wire and glass I watch, impressed,
Missing the point.

A pause as we enter the shop.
Waiting for another uniformed man
To search my mother's handbag.
A line of other mothers waiting.
For more of the same.

A sense of urgency,
A surgical strike. 
No messing around.
In and out, get what's needed
And go home.
Just in case.

A childhood less ordinary,
Better than most.
They kept me safe,
Kept the distant thunder