Bourdon, Paul McMahon
Southword Editions, 2016 €5.00/£5.00
These poems are strongly visual. They seem to me like trailers for film thrillers — a key scene, an event, compelling and clear; and big universal themes — love, death, violence, crippling loss. The opening poem, ‘Missing’, quickly establishes the idea of dramatic expectation:
At eight a.m., on a Sunday morning in January
I was called out to search for the body
of a young man, a predicted suicide.
But it’s not the dead young man who is the central character here; it’s the narrator’s lover, Bourdon, with her ‘porcelain cheeks / and hair the colour / of blackberries’. And though unnamed, she may also be the woman at the heart of ‘Flash’ and ‘A Junkyard Full of Flowers’ (I hope so). She is certainly the woman In ‘Turlough’, where I was reminded strongly of the Del Amitri song ‘Driving with the brakes on’: there’s the same toppling isolation of a couple paralysed by the loss of a baby:
I watched her desperate hands
clutch the poised wheel
‘The Pups in the Boghole’ is a different story entirely but it’s just as visual, and as visceral. It concludes:
And I still see, beside the boghole,
on the wizened trunk of that burnt oak tree,
the eye of a twisted knot
staring out like the drowned.
By the time the title poem appears, ‘Bourdon’ is an ‘ex-girlfriend’. In ‘The Hearth-Pit’, the narrator longs desperately for times gone by, and a girl who laughed when he ‘told her / there was no film / in the camera’ (a direct link with ‘Flash’). And so the dominant emotions are heart-ache and loss, and yet everything is so beautifully vivid that the richness of detail is in itself a celebration.
The penultimate poem, ‘Our Earthenware Jug’, is about a breakage: The author has reserved the fragments of a jug shattered during an angry argument. The relationship is long over but he re-cements the pieces, using a crucible and liquid gold. He finds it, in the end, ‘all the more beautiful for having been broken’. The earthenware jug is now ‘traversed by roads of gold’.
The image of that jug will stay with me.