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Bernard O'Donoghue

This was one of a pair of linked poems in Oxford Poetry VIII.3, the other being Romantic Love. The link between the two is a quotation from André Maurois: "We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity – Gunpowder and Romantic Love." Gunpowder became the title poem of O'Donoghue's second collection, published by Chatto and Windus in 1995; Oxford Poetry X.3 includes an interview with the poet following the publication of his third, Here Nor There.

In the weeks afterwards, his jacket hung
Behind the door in the room we called
His study, where the bikes and wellingtons
Were kept. No-one went near it, until
Late one evening I thought I'd throw it out.
The sleeves smelled of gunpowder, evoking...
Celebration – excitement – things like that,
Not destruction. What was it he shot at
And missed that time? A cock pheasant
That he hesitated too long over
In case it was a hen? The rat behind
The piggery that, startled by the bang,
Turned round to look before going home to its hole?

Once a neighbour who had winged a crow
Tied it to a pike thrust in the ground
To keep the others off the corn. It worked well,
Flapping and cawing, till my father
Cut it loose. Even more puzzlingly,
He once took a wounded rabbit off the dog
And pushed it back into the warren
Which undermined the wall. As for
Used cartridges, they stood well on desks,
Upright on their graven golden ends,
Supporting his fountain-pen so that
The ink wouldn't seep into his pocket.