Peter O’Neill – War Poems

Profile Peter O Neill LE P&W June 2019

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War Poems by Peter O’Neill

Peter O’Neill is the author of several books, perhaps most notably More Micks than Dicks, a hybrid Beckettian novella in 3 genres published originally by Famous Seamus ( UK, 2017) but which is now out of print. Other books include, The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015), The Dark Pool  ( mgv2>publishing, 2015) and Dublin Gothic (Kilmog Press, 2015). He has also edited two anthologies of contemporary Irish writing, And Agamemnon Dead ( mgv2>publishing, 2015) and The Gladstone Readings ( Famous Seamus, 2017). He is currently working on his first novel, and a new book of poems Say Goodbye to the Blackhills which is the final instalment of his Dublin Trilogy. 


Talk of war fills the air.
Before me, two wood pigeon
Cavort on the upper-most branches
Of a Sycamore Tree.

The scene is idyllic, they could be
A framed tableaux gracing the walls
Of some old manor in Fontainebleau,
Or the Forbidden City.

Although it is almost May,
The temperature is only eleven degrees.
The jet streams are circulating the Artic
Sea currents. There is nowhere to hide.


Before the war we read crime novels
For the purpose of entertainment,
Not ever dreaming of killing somebody
Ourselves. Not even in jest.

And that was the beginning of a new form
Of education; The school of murder.
Now, when you look at someone you
Think kill, or not kill? And, without a thought

Of the consequence. The physical body
Before you… the throat taking the knife, or the bullet.
No jury or prosecution, imprisonment then
Of a very different kind. Locked into killing.


Before the war there were no real values.
All we had was a kind of common or lukewarm
Hedonism, in which we neither loved nor
Hated, particularly, but merely indifferently.

We were shameless in our untruthfulness,
All our talk being mere babble.
Everything was measured in the
Accumulation of things, or money.

We were such a cold and indifferent kind.
Though now that the war is here,
We collectively inhale and with
Each passing second, count preciously each breath.


After the war, when I do think of you,
Which is not very often, I see, very much, a
Body, which is no more, as inexistent then
Even as the mind which I knew and loved.

Your strength then being in your body,
Which I so devoutly worshipped like
A drunken fool, happily before you
On my knees, face down in your lap.

Such devotions! The scent, two decades
Later, is still pertinent. Hence, the eternal appeal
Of perfumes! Mentally, I still bottle you.
Eau d’Antiope. But, there is a tax on such duty.


Seeing the great cupola, or dome,
Of the Natural History Museum
Explode in a roar of smoke and flames,
Spewing like some urban volcano fragments of

Slates, burning timbers and hurling brick
Sheer onto the adjacent streets, equates
Simultaneously with my own consciousness
Similarly splitting after witnessing a child being hit

By a hurled window pane, severing the head
Clean off in a fowl swoop, blood cascading
All over the pavements in a wash of crimson,
Heralding the dawn of a terrifyingly new paradigm of beauty.

© Peter O’Neill