Issue 17: Gail McConnell

Type Face


The thing I notice noticing’s the font

in the Historical Enquiries Team Report.

It’s Comic Sans. Comic Sans!

(And what style do I think all this demands?) 

Oh font of parish news and Christmas fares

so loathed by Appleites in Arial!  

Oh target of all parody! (Now mass-produced

on mugs: I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.

Thirteen bucks). Garamond’s antithesis –

butt of all jokes and nil finesse.

I picture the Grafton recruit who’s tasked

with type face – Pick and convert – asked

to choose from a dozen fonts. Readable’s the brief.

Something to ballast (before grief

engulfs me on the seventh page)

this dizzying display (a reportage

cocktail I try to throw straight back)

of fact on (is it?) fact on (is it?) fact

with just enough gravity and grace

to keep me reading. A style of type face

for pellucid prose, print-ready

from the get-go, serif free

and spaced for certain possibilities 

in this state-sponsored textual history.   

What will survive of us, I think, is love

of fonts like this. Times, Proxima Nova.

Oh starry night in Clarendon! Bauhaus

or something more Pragmatica. Our trust

in something other than the words.  

The word-hoard gone to ground, we herd

these altered bits and pieces in authentic

looking lines hoping textual pyrotechnics

mask our longing, lack, our state of being sans

(without comedy – tragedy?; in the absence of –). 


It says I was three (born on a Tuesday)

and stood by mum beside the car (as every day –   

looking underneath for cats, as then it seemed).

A stray apostrophe distracts me

from the shots recorded next, the shouts

and screams etcetera… Cut to me, out

in the open (my father on the ground), then heeding

(‘wounds to his head and chest and bleeding

from the nose and ears’ – the ears?) mum’s cries

to go inside the house. I’m mesmerised

by all of this – a list of every character

and the parts they play: photographer,

pedestrian, neighbour (one and two) and coroner,

the school boy at the kitchen counter

glancing up. And then the ‘laceration of the brain’

under ‘Post Mortem’. They write it out again

under ‘Inquest’. From lacerare, ‘mangled, torn’

(no rhyme for that, I know, but do read on).

And Tuesday’s child is full of grace, enough

to heed his plea that, mum and me, we love –

love our enemies no less, and turn

the other cheek, and turn our loss to burning

up our grief in crazed forgiveness.

Out of our minds, as is proper, misgivings

at this plan we swallowed up, and set to work

violently loving. When a person buried in the dirt

asks this from beyond the grave, you answer

(if answer is the word for what I try)

with Romans eight verse thirty-eight and nine

(ten negations there – neither, nor, nor, nor)

to anyone who asks, and even those who don’t

but catch my mother’s story passing by

(no need to stop) the gospel stall outside

the Crescent church (Sat, Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri).


‘Nothing can separate me from the Love of God

in Christ Jesus Our Lord’. Nothing can, indeed.

I am guided by Google, my mother by Christ.

Awake most nights, I click and swipe.

I search and find Bill McConnell Paint and Body.

Under new management!!!!! Northeast Tennessee.

Where is God in a Messed-up World? Inside the Maze.

(My phone flashes up a message like a muse.)

Straight & Ready: A History of the 10th Belfast

Scout Group. (35) (PO) (IRA)

– for more and a photograph, push this link>>

the maroon death icon on

You visited this page on 06/02/15.

And here I am again.

And in The Violence of Incarceration

(Routledge, 2009), eds. Phil Scraton

and Jude McCulloch (page thirty-three), he

‘oversaw, but later denied in court, the brutality

of prison guards, [and] was executed by the IRA

on the 8 March 1984.’ (He’d been dead two days

by then.) Execute. Late Middle English:

from Latin exsequi ‘follow up, punish’.

There’s a listing on,

‘an [sic] non-sectarian, non-political’ nook

complete with Union Jack and Ulster flag

campaigning pics, the Twitter feeds and tags,

a calendar and videos. Powered by WordPress.

And then there’s Voices from The Grave (and this

one’s hard to bear, though can I say so? I don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.)

I won’t write down the page. But something in me,

seeing that crazed portrait – something’s relieved.


February 2015. A leaflet

on a table announces the event.

The speaker is the speaker who would speak

before my mum. Watch ye. The flesh is weak

(no matter what the spirit’s done). Heaven

his topic. Romans to Revelation.

(I wish it was all made up, all this stuff.)

‘Purpose in Paralysis’ the alliterative

tagline. Author of Where is God…?, Why me?,

Blessed are the Dead Who Die in the Lord (more certainty

that time) and something called Grill a Christian.

How he found mum and made us his mission

I still don’t understand. The story ran:

Murder, Grief, Forgiveness, Grace. And again.

Once more with feeling. Once more for TV.

This time for radio (Christian – UCB).

I love the thought of grace. But grace

was not what I was given. Or at least

not what I got from those strange years. Out here,

in my fourth decade, and in Belfast, near

to where this story started (‘It’s all

in my head’, I said, banging a piano –

these lyrics punctuate so many thoughts)

the learning, therapy, and books I’ve brought

to bear on my experience pile up.

(I could play narcissist/messiah. Take this cup.)

I’m out of time and out of pocket, out

of mind, a little, too and still I mouse

around the web, a Casaubon in search

of who knows fucking what. The earth

is the Lord’s and everything in it. Us,

and all we Google. Us, our doubts and loves,

as one man put it – a title borrowed

from a poem. With tea we spoke of sorrow

and desire when we met

in Enniskillen – Calvin, Job and Beckett,

MacNeice’s Stranger in the wings,

cracks and splits appearing on the surface of the real, things

break down first, then bloom. Dissolution, degradation.

The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.    


Sixth of March. Sixth of March. Sixth of March

again. If only this dactylic charge

could do something. Not the valley of Death,

exactly, this suburban street in the east.

Affluent, gentrified, café culture

thrives – lattes, babycinos – whereby culture

(properly defined)’s consumption. Graze,

Il Pirata, M&S, No. 36,

The Halt. Come dine in BT4!

Upper East. Belmont. Ballyhackamore

(which means, of course, townland of all the shit,

where tied-up horses paced and champed the bit

to get back to where they came from). Giro

d’Italia blazed a pink snake trail through here (no

shops but painted shop-fronts showed

things worth buying on the Newtownards Road

– lower, I mean now. BT5. Copy

trade in paint. Cover over vacancy.

Council-sponsored simulacra ring-fence

these rooms, these lives – defenceless –

as sales in Iceland thrive and the 3A

goes up and down and down this road all day.

I buy bread and pay with plastic and capital

flows on in dreams through time transcontinental.)

The toast rack’s metal half loops cast a shadow

on the table – almost ouroboros

but not quite. Anyway, sixth of March.

We drive to Roselawn. Me and mum. Trees arch

the paths before us and behind. 35

(I do a quick subtraction) when he died –

the age I’ll be this year. There’s a fresh mound,

parched and greyish, three graves down.

They missed their five-year anniversary

by three days. I see her by the yew tree

out the front. No cards. No gifts of wood.

No coastal breeze and Balearic mood.

Instead she stood in line with shorts and shirts

she’d bought for him, offering the receipt

with mumbled apology. My husband’s

(dead) – I need to return these.  Thanks. Thanks. And

no – yes, the refund please. No departure.

No getaway. The moment it starts

to make sense – the moment sense slips away.

Nothing.                                            Nothing left to say.

Where nothing, maybe grace. Only this I know:

my mother holding to her chest his clothes

and that department store’s fluorescent glow

and every trace she noticed noticing

of him at home, while I played on my own

or read or slept and she sat up alone.  


Focused on the Future, pst

in lower case (that’s Prison Service Trust).

6th March 2015. (Coincidence?

Or triggered by a Calendar of Incidents?)

Dear Gail, (no serifs) As the son/daughter

(no proofread) of a murdered officer

our criteria clearly states that all

children remain clients of the Trust (call

it that, with a cap, and it seems like something

I could put my faith in or belong in)

indefinitely. If I wasn’t clear

before, perhaps I should be now. Dear…

was not how it began. His final words

a public statement/letter. An afterword                          

written weeks before. The subject: ‘My demise’

so less a letter than a note. A counter-clockwise

telling, an auto-elegy of sorts. (After Hennessy,

the PGA, the gunman, there’s mum and me

commended to your keeping). I’m struck by nothing

once again. ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing

Less…’ – first their wedding, then his funeral.

This wish for solid ground. This vulnerable

testimony – darkness, storms and floods

frailty, nakedness, sheer exposure – and a love

that answers choral calls for some foundation.

That hymn gives voice to so much isolation,

modern longing, love, and in full rhyme: frame/name

face/grace, blood/flood, stand/sand, way/stay, veil/ gale.

I grew up to these verses, on the blue

itchy carpet tiles (they’d pulled out all the pews)

of a tiny Baptist church. There is a green hill

far away, without a city wall.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years; Abide

with me; fast falls the eventide.

The arrow flits across the screen. I type

titles into engine boxes, flick from tab

to tab, from text to hypertext,

a hymnody cross-referenced with itself

and itself only. Confusing, this circuitry.

News without integrity, fauxetry,

just search, then it’s command c, command v

and sift a bit to generate new poetry.

And generate is now the verb we use

since artistry is dead, authority abused

and empathy deeply uncool.

(To say all this, I know, is so uncouth.)

The great paradox of poetry,

he said, is ‘faced with the brutality

of the historical onslaught’ (this in ’86)

poetry, the arts, are ‘practically useless’.

From Greek praktikos, ‘concerned with action’.

Not instrumental, not productive, not

impactful. The writing in the sand

(ephemeral, no solid Rock in sight

or plea for higher ground on which to stand)

is all, and what happens ‘in the rift’.

‘Practically useless’. This is the gift

we can choose to ignore for algorithm

content and ready-made form. Lyricism

would be the rhyme for that but I’m ranting,

I can feel it. That’s not what I’m wanting.

It’s just the line these days between privacy

(that tricky thing) and piracy

is so hard to make out. Reproducing

afterlives ad infinitum, loosening

the faith we had (had we?) in autonomy,

etymology, things well made (knowing all is vanity)

searching, sharing, linking, tracing

selves, pasts, fathers, scouring texts fixated.

13 inches – 4 million pixels –

I can’t see your face.


The HET’s been closed for months        

having had its own enquiry, then the cuts.

The repository’s the size, they say, of a B&Q

and surely as confusing and unstaffed. ‘Aisle 2

for photographs of victims

and as for case files you can pick them

from those bins in section 6’ the discontented

ghosts direct. What system they invented

is beyond me. 3000 piles (and more) of paper,

each typed and bound in plastic makes it data.

Data into Comic Sans as though medium

is no matter, as though it isn’t egg and chicken.

My focus on the font’s a distraction,

I’m aware. I’ve still not read the middle section:

forensics, arrests, releases, sentences

I haven’t seen. Simple past and past continuous.

Who did what to whom and why’s not for us to ask.

Act normal. Act as though the forty death masks

spelling HOPE at Short Strand/Albertbridge

are incidental. History’s tectonic drift, a moving ridge.

The word I’ve tried hard not to use is murdered

(it puts people on edge and sounds absurd

in my own mouth). Verbs downplaying agency

are best – died, was killed and, most recently,

lost. All those Lost Lives. To lose one’s a misfortune,

two looks like carelessness. It may be a distortion

of Wildean proportions to say I lost my father

cos we’re all, you know, like part to blame and too far

into the future now, post-’98, to turn (again),

to see, in this decade of centenaries (dot com)

the terrible state of chassis still unmourned.

‘The whelming flood’. I was forewarned.

A form that’s large enough to drown

in. I turn the ring-bound file face down.

I lift my tumbler’s lip to mine

and set its rim on top. Nothing cupped.

The magician’s ball, scooped up

by sleight of hand, he presses to his palm

as gawkers pause, finger the baize,

demand the trick again. I negated grace,

though I wrote it seven times.

That makes eight. I could try to realign

things, like I do my spine.

I fold, unfold; coil, uncoil; crease, uncrease.

Inhale and open. Exhale: release.

We skipped the mourning for Romans 8:

divine paternity, clinging to the Spirit.

‘Let no one be alarmed as to my eternal Security’

he wrote. Securitas. Without concern, free

from care. I’m 35. My childhood home’s been sold again.

I lie in shadows cast by streetlights through the rain

in a room of sweaty strangers in corpse pose.

A note in Comic Sans reads ‘Turn to close’.

Gail McConnell is Lecturer in English at Queen’s University Belfast and is currently working on her first collection of poems. ‘Twenty Three Fifteen’ appeared in The Manchester Review, Issue 14.  She is the author of Northern Irish Poetry and Theology (Palgrave, 2014), a contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry (OUP, 2012), and has articles forthcoming in boundary 2 and Irish University Review. She is also a co-editor of The Irish Review and reviews poetry for a number of journals.


Copyright © 2016 by Gail McConnell, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.