I remember my ex-girlfriend
running through a field of sunflowers
as I’m looking at a dead bumblebee
lying on its back on the window sill,
its downy head of battered fluff
as stubborn and bull-headed as a drunk oaf.
Bloated, like a bluebottle in a stripy jumper,
I roll it off the ledge and onto the palm of my hand,
its wings more like frail stained glass windows
closed over a pregnant blob. Woollen arms
with question marks for hands, the hidden tongue,
the gilded eye that sees all in honeycomb,
and again I see Bourdon, but she is waiting
for me to get out of bed. The sun is shining,
the sky is blue topaz. She is at the hotel window,
fretting and stamping her feet. We arrived late
the night before, after a long day driving south.
Get up, she says, as she finally bolts out the door.
I slip out from the warm sheets,
walk over to the window
and look out to see her running
through the field of sunflowers,
her hands spread out like wings
skimming off the flower heads
that were the same colour
as the bull-headed drunk oaf,
the woollen blob of fool’s gold
flashing on the lake-bed of memory –
the bumblebee in the palm of my hand
that crashed into the window pane
like Bourdon crashed into a tree.
I touch its downy flank and remember
the sandy dunes of her skin,
the sweet drone of her voice,
silent as the bee’s wings
sleeping in the sunflowers of dreams.
He was about six or seven, black rubbish-tip hair, big doe-eyes,
teeth driftwood-white, a painted-on ringmaster’s moustache,
outstretched arm and hand held out like a soup-kitchen ladle.
I was standing beside one of the cremation paddocks
at the burning Ghats in Varanasi. A pyre was blazing –
bruise-black smoke rose up into the vacant sky
and the sun burned down over the slow, wide Ganges
and the vast, sandy tidal plain on the far side.
Garlanded chanters in a canoe rowed a dead guru
out for river-burial – the shrouded corpse lay stiffly
across the bow like the firing arm of a crossbow.
The artful-dodger street-child tugged once more
at the hem of my sleeve and I looked down into his hazel eyes
to see that all my ambitions were meaningless dreams,
illusions that would vanish into smoke at the end of my days.
I felt hollow, like a bubble, shrouded-off from anything real.
As I reached into my pocket, that I kept stocked with sweets
for the street-children, I glanced to the blazing pyre –
a man, a fire-warden, was picking up an arm
that had fallen out and he threw it back on top
of the furnace-orange flames.
When I gave the hazel-eyed street-child the sweet, a chocolate éclair,
he clutched it in his flycatcher-hand and then asked me for money.
I looked away – the day before I saw him hand his coins in
to a lanky teenager who had the stern eyes of an amateur knifer.
The child shrugged-off, examining the shrouded éclair,
its plastic wrapper a black velvety blouse, which he opened,
revealing an inner wrapper, a white geisha-corset
stuck sugar-tight against the treacle skin which he peeled back
and gently released like a dove’s wing onto the air
before he tossed the sallow toffee body into his gaping mouth.
I turned back to the paddock and the burning pyre,
its summit of unquestioning flame –
the detached arm had landed palm up,
the fingertips lightly cupping,
it had let go of all it had given
……………………or been given.
A Junkyard Full of Flowers
As she fumbled with the buttons of her jeans
………….of her warmth
rose from the swan of her neck
and mixed with the fog-wet
………….of the cold alley wall.
The streetlight, covered in a speckled veil of drizzle,
flooded the alley
………….in aquarium-blue light.
The muddy puddles we had just splashed through
………….into stillness –
tapered with petroleum rainbows, as smooth as her silk eyes –
they lay on the concrete
………….gaping up like apertures,
photographing the wild moonlight and recording it
into the scriptures
………….of riverbed churches.
In her husky voice I heard the rumbling of mad oceans
and I saw stars and trembling bridges
………….walk frail light
to the ledges of the visions beyond the woodland path
as it turns through the forest
………….and out of sight.
A car swerved into view. In its headlight,
the cloudy mirage of her breath
………….lit up in the air,
leaving the rose of its afterimage hanging there
until the car drove on
………….and the darkness snatched it –
its grip pressing out the illuminated perfume
from the wrung blossom
………….which spread through the blue alley,
leaving, in place of the strewn cast-offs,
………….full of flowers.
The fire in the hearth is galloping
through the wind in the flue,
over the highways of ember.
Three hundred years ago,
when this farmhouse was built,
a man stooped and dug a pit
under the hearth – in those days
it was also a grave. I too kneel
at it every day
with black roses
and a shattered cross.
I too feel the hearth-pit
in my stomach
in these early morning
As the flames take hold
there comes a sense of longing,
the gone by, as though waved to
by someone I recognize
but don’t remember – except in
the sound of her laughing
when I told her
there was no film
in the camera.
I set a scalp of turf
on the fading embers of the fire
and look out the window –
across the boglands,
deep in sleep
below a lullaby
of fresh white snow,
a black cormorant
swoops into view
then glides out
towards the open sea.
— Paul McMahon
Paul McMahon lives in Cork. His debut poetry chapbook, Bourdon, is being published this November by Southword Editions. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Stinging Fly, Atlanta Review, The Salt Anthology of New Writing, The Montreal International Poetry Prize Global Anthology, Agenda, The Moth, The Irish Times, Southword, Ambit, and others. His poetry has also been broadcast on RTE Radio. He has won a number of prizes for poetry including The Keats-Shelley, The Ballymaloe International, The Nottingham, The Westport, The Golden Pen, second prize in both The Basil Bunting and in The Salt International Poetry Prize, and Arts Bursary awards, for poetry, from both The Arts Council of Ireland, and The Arts Council of N. Ireland.