The Cacti Do Not Move, Tim Murphy
SurVision Books, 2019 €6.99
An art gallery of poems
This is the story of a man and a woman with irreconcilable dreams (both literal and metaphorical). The relationship founders (an epigraph from Andre Breton suggests a dialectic has failed to reach synthesis). In many ways, it resembles a series of paintings that draws in all kinds of symbols (the cacti being only one). The dominant colour is blue.
For the ordinary reader, meaning is often uncertain: some of the symbols are, I think, personal — blood and bloodstones, labyrinths, mandalas, horses, an abacus. But in the context of visual art, this has its attractions.
The opening poem, ‘The Water Fire’, may make reference to Barnaby Evans’ installation in Providence, but also asserts its own ethos: ‘Creating, preserving, destroying, / Never and always at once.’
Then there’s a female painter in ‘Spatula in Hand’; and the poet himself as artist in ‘Painted Canvases’.
The idea of solitude intensifies as the pages turn. In ‘Every Sunrise,’ the sky is ‘a parchment and yearning shuts down the sunset’. In ‘Eating with Regret’, the central, haunting image is:
Only a mounted canvas,
With the suggestion of taking a knife to it
Seething from itself —
And you, standing there,
For years and years,
Blade in hand.
The concluding poem (‘Heal’) suggests healing through art (‘Paint the blue sky, / Draw the silent island’).
For me, however, the prevailing image of hope is ‘The Aurochs’ which is dynamically arresting from the outset:
Every week at a certain hour
On a certain day
I float in a sea of floating women.
The speaker and the ‘floating women’ are not only floating (nobody is sinking); they are painting ‘as they float’, and ‘copying the pictures / Of the wild cattle on old cave walls’. The situation is beautiful, bizarre, and somehow liberating. It lifts effortlessly out of the ‘tragedy blue’ (in the title poem) and floats into something else. In a poem like this, anything is possible:
We are all painting the bison, the wild bulls,
We are all painting the aurochs.
We paint for luck in the hunt,
We paint to cope with our trauma,
We paint our ritual need.
We paint windows of pain and we paint mandalas —
We paint the aurochs.