Books: Contemporary poets 27: The Soldier

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27 Paul Durcan

Born in Dublin in 1944, Paul Durcan studied at University College, Cork. Wry, whimsical, anecdotal, awkwardly confessional but also funny about Ireland and its traumas, he has published 12 collections, including The Berlin Wall Cafe and Daddy, Daddy (winner of the 1990 Whitbread Poetry Award). This previously unpublished poem appears in the forthcoming A Snail in My Prime: New and Selected Poems (Harvill).


On the road back to Dublin from Galway

I picked up a man outside Ballinasloe.

Before we had got to Athlone - sixteen miles on -

He had admitted to me that he was separated from his wife

And I had admitted to him that I was separated from my husband.

Passing through Tyrellspass he confided in me that he was an alcoholic.

To which I replied that I also am an alcoholic.

He had a pair of rosary beads

Twined round the fingers of his right hand

And he fed them all the way back to Dublin -

Feeding the beads through his long, narrow fingers,

Paying them in, paying them out.

In a Sunday night traffic jam

On the outskirts of Maynooth

I asked him:

What are your beads made of?

He howled: Moonstones.

He explained that when there is a full moon,

If you are wearing moonstones,

You can see into the future.

He asked me to drop him off in Lucan

And, as I dropped him, I drove up onto the kerb

I was that - that mystified.

That night thinking about him in bed,

I realised that he was a soldier

Come back from, or going to, the wars.

A gentleman with no hope - no hope at all.

(Photograph omitted)