Fifty-five days

Issue SixIssue Six PoetryPoetry

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By Denise O’Hagan


We shrugged at bomb scares at school

Locked our doors, watched our bags and our steps

And skirted any lone bag on a bench.

These were the years of lead, after all.

The violence that edged things was rising

And life was getting a ragged quality to it.

The heart was falling out of the city

Its famous walls bulged with sanctioned corruption

Handshakes and deals that never happened.


So when a famous politician was kidnapped

And held hostage for fifty-five days,

We’d run out of shock, so to speak.

Yet his heavy-lidded resignation dragged at our hearts

As a mugshot released grainy proof that he was, still, alive

And his letters of appeal went public.

‘In truth,’ he wrote, ‘I feel a little abandoned…’


The government, curiously, was implacable:

Its refusal – this time! – to negotiate for one of their own

Was cold and hard as marble.

Not the supplications of family and friends

Nor the offer of papal intervention

Stemmed the inevitable, blossoming horror.


To the wail of sirens and a thickening crowd

His bloody, bullet-studded body was found

Chained and crumpled in the boot of a Renault

And dumped in the centre of Rome.

The symbolism was callously clear:

A sacrifice had been laid at a political altar

But by whom?


Then was the time of recriminations and allegations

Of tip-offs unfollowed and other inexplicable revelations

Strikes, demonstrations, and calls for resignations

Spawning ever more accusations

Which clung like mist to the men in black suits

And shadowed the stretching of the years ahead.



© 2017


(Note: In 1978 the leader of the ruling Christian Democrats, Aldo Moro, was murdered in Rome by the Red Brigades. His ‘historic compromise’ would have been the first Communist representation in a Western European government.)