A beautiful storm
I was entranced by Olga Dermott-Bond’s astonishing images in Apple, Fallen.
In the opening poem, ‘Axe’, the narrator studies a 17th century executioner’s axe and imagines: ‘a neck exposed, pink sinews propped / like a stick of snapped rhubarb’. In the final stanza, the axe has become an image for a mother leaving her child:
A front door closing
as a silvered edge.
These uncomfortable images set the tone for the pamphlet. The poem leaves the reader on the word ‘severance’.
Images in the eponymous poem, ‘apple, fallen’, are hard-hitting. There is significant movement in the poem. Split into two stanzas, we witness a mother, in the opening line, with a smile ‘perfect and full’ as an apple, change to a ‘smashed skull’, ‘crawling / of ferment’, in the second stanza. She ‘has sunk her own tongue’, ‘hollowed’ by her ‘hope-laden daughters’. The final, indented stand-alone line, haunts me:
turn me over before you ask how I am.
Clever punctuation choices reinforce on the page images of a mind rotting. Traditional syntax breaks down in the second stanza — with capitalisation discarded after full stops, which feels off-kilter.
Most abiding, for me, are poems about the parent child bond. In ‘Singing me from heavy depths’ the images are gorgeous. A child becomes a ‘starfish’ in bed, with ‘hair all-jangling’ in the morning, sucking a ‘minute pebble of fist’.
‘Toaster’ and ‘An Alternative Terminal’ explore the close relationship of father and daughter. Toast with Dad is ‘love landing / soft, the right way up’. And ‘An Alternative Departure’ uses the semantics of the airport — Dad’s ‘jumpered warmth’ is the only ‘security needed’.
Yet even in tender moments, Dermott-Bond keeps it real. ‘Every day’ celebrates ‘the clean paint’ of a child’s voice, with ‘new words wet to the touch’, yet the mother’s voice is ‘raw’:
a caught gull cry
that circles in the evening.
Her ‘speckled egg-shell skin’ could crack.
Complex and startling — like the relationship of her protagonists, Fionn and Oonagh, in her five-poem sequence — Dermott-Bond’s writing might be summed up by the final lines of ‘Fionn courts Oonagh’. It is:
a beautiful storm.