Star Wars premiered as they cut the exiguous flap of my umbilical.
“The King is Dead” ran The Herald and the midwife handed over the genesis
of my unfledged, unwhimpering body.
In the carrycot of my mother’s arms, hissing privately with birth,
I cried nothing, confessed nothing.
It was the year of the snake and The Spy Who Loved Me—
the year Zulfiqar Bhutto was ousted by the Bond villain ul-Haq.
The year Steve Biko was clubbed to death in custody.
Fidgety among the hangings, my grandfather peered down longingly for 90 minutes
at the pitch below the hospital where Rangers were leading Wanderers
(a Rangerette herself, when I was born my mother asked the Doctor for the score—
“It’s a classic match: eight fingers, two thumbs”).
75,000 fans lined the streets of Memphis for the King’s funeral.
500 million tuned into their small screens as the Queen’s Jubilee carriage
trundled up The Mall.
My father was late to the maternity ward.
He arrived bearing a thin deck of lilies, whitely inflamed from their sprigs.
It was the year President Carter pardoned draft dodgers and George Willig
(a.k.a “The Human Fly”) climbed the World Trade Center.
I was speechless and ready to alight, preserved by a flambeau of luck.
This was the year Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel seeking a peace deal—
the year my brother, on hearing the altarpiece of our house break in its glass,
shelved us together, under the bed.
“When will it ever stop?” I heard one voice whisper to another.
My mother scooped up my egesting mess from the floor.
The year ended in a clappering of bells.
Amnesty won the Peace Prize.
The Cold War was inscrutable.
On and on it went.
James Byrne’s second collection in the United Kingdom, Blood / Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. In the same year, his Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Serbia. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009. He is also the editor of The Wolf, an internationally renowned poetry magazine, which he co-founded in 2002.
Homepage photograph via Flickr by Tim Ereneta