Borders

Brexit

I am sometimes asked where all the ideas come from that inspire a new poem. Well, I range around. Today’s poem’s train of thought was provoked  by a tweet. I am not a frequenter tweeter, but I do follow a few who are only on Twitter. And my current favourite is The Irish Border (@BorderIrish) who is wittily discoursing on the Brexit crisis about what to do with the problem of it. A lot hangs upon the Good Friday Treaty (aka the Belfast Treaty of 1998), which spelled out the end of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We live in border country. For instance, today we went to the launderette in Fermanagh, which is eight miles away. If we opted for ones in Leitrim, we would have had to travel around sixteen miles to do the dirty washing. We fill our prescriptions in Fermanagh, because our doctor’s surgery is just over the bridge from  it on the Cavan side of Lough MacNean. It is often cheaper too, but if it isn’t they send us to our nearest Leitrim pharmacy which is (yes) sixteen miles in the other direction.

Today’s featured image is a photo of an art project at that bridge point that marks an international boundary. The 2017 project was ‘Soften the Border’, a peaceful way of voicing what locals want for their future. And it was done in knitting and crochet!

art installation 2

Read more here We Need to Talk About Symbols

The poem opens with a reference to the Black Pig’s Dyke, an ancient earthwork fortification (a bit like a neolithic Trump wall) to keep out invading incursions between Ulster and Connaught. More here Pigs Can’t Fly?

And today’s inspiration comes from the Yellow Manifesto. Which was the spark that lit the metaphorical match today.

 

Borderland

 

“A border is where realities co-exist” – The Yellow Manifesto

 

We know this well, those of us who

ride the Black Pig’s back here.

We remember its day of rampant tusk and harsh bristle

over thirty years and more.

We unwound a lot over the past twenty years,

got past the gore; uncombed some knots and tats.

We like the one we have right now,

and would very much  like it remaining invisible.

Except perhaps on bureaucrats’ maps.

We have done the hard work to make visible

more than any political magical thinking.

(Much of it paid for by the EU, thank you!)

 

We cannot go back to the hot-cold war ways

of Checkpoint Charlie rifling for contraband bacon.

Besides of course of which, it’s probably already

being stuffed down the granny’s corset and brolly.

We long ago learned the math of two currencies,

but newly know the true value of peace.

It’s just another way of doing the double,

understanding how the other side thinks.

We can tell you the exact cost and

count it in epigenetics because

PTSD still holds a lingering legacy.

 

Land is porous. Just like our meadows and bogs.

You would think after two millennium

we’d get the hang of forgiving trespassers,

the being kind to our neighbours.

Maps are for magical thinking that

set traps for the less canny and unwary.

Borderlanders know the true juju

of negotiating their lives betwixt and between.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

Yellow Manifesto

 

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We Need to Talk About Symbols

Brexit

I have always had a certain ambivilance bordering on antipathy to flags. Flags are territory markers, symbols of possession. They are also a way of saying you are either in or out. If you are one of us you are welcome; everyone else ‘Scram!’

We say patriots wrap themselves in the flag. But really, they wrap themselves in tribalism. Underneath that tribalism is the rattle of sabers and the thunder of war drums, of winners chest thumping and losers being ground under a boot.

Flags are ugly things to me. We aren’t dogs that need to mark territory to find our way home.  To some, flags may be a symbol of belonging, but really they are also symbols of exclusion.

Living close to the boundary with Northern Ireland and, having ‘married in’ with a native of that part of the world, I know all about flags. Mercifully, those flags have become less prevalent since 1998, but there are still neighbourhoods that fly the tribal colours and we know that we can never belong. There are certain times of year where certain neighbourhoods are avoided while they have their annual tribal rites.

And seeing that profusion of tribal colours incites an unease. American-born I can go anywhere, but there are areas where  my husband would immediately feel unwelcome, uneasy if not threatened. It’s got much better, but the point is that those symbols are potent and they can instill fear, anxiety, terror.

I want to ban all flags. Because all are, in a sense, flags of convenience, ways to oil the wheels of power over, to profit the few at the expense of the many. They are symbols drenched in blood and suffering. Some glory in that sacrifice of human life. The truth is that there is never glory, only a trail of grief generation upon generation.

Resistance is more important than ever. Tribalism is pushing its unmasked face into ours. And how can you respond non-violently?

I live near to the border with Northern Ireland and there is much discussion about whether Brexit will mean that we go back to the  ‘hard border’ days prior to the Peace Treaty that created a renaissance in this region, much of it funded by the EU. No one here wants to go back to the days of delays crossing the border, customs checks, military presence.  No one wants a hard border.

A bridge between the villages of Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) and Blacklion, Co. Cavan (Republic of Ireland) is an international boundary. During the annual summer fair an art installation by Rita Duffy was mounted right on the international boundary line. “Soften the Border” used soft furnishings and knitted work (and The Markethouse in Blacklion is host to many avid crochet and knitting sessions) to make a symbolic point.

art installation 2

And there was not Union Jack or Tricoulour in sight. On one side was a small purple blanket. The other was crochet granny squares.

No tribal colours or sabers or drums. This region has had enough of that to last three lifetimes and it brought a great deal of destruction, sorrow, heartache, depopulation and emigration, and economic decline.

They embraced this idea of peace, reconciliation, coexistence, respect. You don’t have to like everyone and their beliefs, but if you want a civil society without violence you need to suck it up and not rub your neighbour’s nose in something that will make them afraid, defensive and reactionary.

Which is why symbols of triumphalism of any kind, whether it is a flag or a statue of some supposed ‘hero’, have to go if we want to walk the talk of ‘love thy neighbour.’ Integration has a long way to go in the North, but over twenty years people have found common ground, most recently in the stand against fracking operations moving into the cross-border region.

Softly, persistantly, with craft, intelligence and wit, people can unite and resist without violence.

But absolutely, symbols are provocations and have the power to incite violence as much as they have the power to unite people behind the nobler call of equality, fairness, and power sharing.

If there must be flags, let them be wooly and soft, symbols of nurture and cherishing, warmth and welcome.

We need icons like this sculpture in Blacklion that looks across Lough MacNean to Fermanagh. We need symbols of hope that inspire us to keep walking the talk, no matter how imperfect our efforts  may be.