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Poem to the Belfast Peace Walls

by John Michael McCann

An ocean separates me from my family's history.

An ocean is a wall.
An ocean is not necessarily a wall.
An ocean is not a wall.
An ocean is a barrier.
An ocean is stateless.
An ocean is horizontalism at its best.

Oceans don’t give a single fuck about any rhythm.

An ocean is a graveyard.
An ocean rushes people home a thousand hours
after they accepted their fate that they would die at sea.
An ocean hides the last remaining dinosaurs.
An ocean speaks ten thousand more languages
than ever known.
An ocean is a miracle
An ocean is a wall.
An Ocean separates me from my family's history.

What is the difference between a wall and a barrier?

The peace in Northern Ireland
seven months older than me almost to the day.
The peace now stands the question of a question.
The wall unquestionably standing firmly.
The bullets have stopped flowing.

The peace walls maybe still stand
because the bullets have not lost their impact.

What right do I have to this history?
I can peek out over the ocean and see the cracks tremble
and wonder if I wish to walk,
I can
see if the walls will burst open after an onslaught of exposed old wounds
show that their bodies are still trembling because the bullets
did not yet die

how much are the memories of my father my memory?
how much memory can survive trips across an ocean?
how much of what is left can survive a generation?

My father, only offering passing moments,
of being stopped at checkpoints
like any border.
There were bombs but it was not a war zone.
He was with me in New York on Good Friday.
The peace, certainly his.

The peace was 800 years coming.
The walls are now old enough to buy cigarettes.
The peace walls now a place for people to sign their name
and move on.
The walls beginning to bepart of the city-scape.
The gunshots still in the walls.
I have not signed my name on the wall.
The walls have stolen children.
The walls have made oceans
The Irish flag is an ocean.The green and orange separated by an eternity of white.
What would happen if you tore the oceans down and
Burned out every signature,
left them smoldering on a hill?

The oceans down,
would our hearts break over
the lack of distance?
The peace walls are not oceans.
A bomb thrown over a wall explodes on the other side.
The bomb cannot explode me.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

While the Western Wall in Israel helps connect Eliza to her history, John feels alienated and distanced from the sufferings of the Irish people and distrusts the various “walls” that have been constructed to symbolize the history of trouble. The ocean both protects John and removes the possibility of identifying with his family’s past. Think about the purposes of hot spots; what could one do for John?