Issue 18: Mary Noonan
So here you are, in Palma de Mallorca, in Bunker’s,
the cool bistrot named for the god-like surfer
who bailed in Malibu at the age of twenty-eight,
couldn’t ride the wave of his father’s sugar millions.
But all of that is very far from both of you, sitting
opposite your teenagers – a girl and a boy,
olive-skinned, strong-boned. Are you on holiday?
You stare, wide-eyed, and smile while they
do all the talking, their dark brows moving
in waves of knowledge and humour. Delicate
and tough, they look made for the new world –
already, they know more than you, though
they don’t know what a tightrope act it was
to deliver them and their mother-of-pearl spines –
once fragile as spun sugar, or linnets’ throats –
to this table. And they don’t know if they in turn
will have to hoist your old bones on their backs
and hike across a mountain pass to safety, or
how far they will have to travel on without you.
What’s it like to be looking into the radiant disks
of these Apollonian faces, reflecting you and
your parents and glimmers of the ancestors
who survived, the man who had to let go
of a small boy’s hand, watch him slip into the deep
as he tried to swim against the eddying vortex,
or the woman who, starving, followed a procession
of ants and raided their store of grain in order to
feed her family? All of that, pressing for a hearing
beneath the silken skin of these, your flawless children.
Letter to CalFrom the correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop
Well, I suppose no-one’s heart is good
for much till it’s been smashed to bits.
But no more doctors, I’m going to get
my repair work done at the doll hospital
from now on. I’m exhausted all over, but
particularly the face, which must come from
wearing a horrible fixed grin for so long.
I’ve put some Arden lotion in the ice-box
and am looking forward to lying down and
putting a nice cold washcloth full of it on
my poor hypocritical features. I wish
you’d come. We could go bone-fishing.
They’re the greatest fish there is – very small.
You have to pole through the mangrove keys
silently. And in June, there’s tarpon –
that’s moonlight night-fishing. Ravishing
but hard to catch. The Polish girl and a boy
from the hotel are teaching me pool,
such a useful thing to know. And Sunday
I’m going to the cockfights. But I do wish
someone would ask me to go to the races –
I’m dying to. Thank you so much for the
“Glass Eye and Supplies”. Only you know
how fond I am of glass eyes.
I used to have relatives with glass eyes when
I was small, and for some reason I worried
because I thought they wouldn’t go to Heaven.
I don’t think I was ever fully reassured.
When you write my epitaph, you must say
I was the loneliest person who ever lived.
Still Life with Pigeons
The nude statues on rue du Faubourg St Denis – she holding a full-blown globe, he a crescent moon – had a ball of blood-smeared feathers at their feet when I snapped them with my iphone. And a couple of feral pigeons lay on their backs behind a plate-glass shop-front on rue de Belleville as I walked by, bird sinew mixed with the dust of cinder-blocks, toppled pillars. How did they come to be inside for the swing of the wrecking-ball, the thump of the sledgehammer, doomed to lie framed, side-by-side, under plaster-of–Paris snow?
Pigeons are dying in this city. My apartment looks onto a gable-end that does not show French windows with pelmets of wrought-iron fleur-de-lys. Instead, biscuit-cutter apertures puncture concrete, like judas spy-holes. I watch the pigeons fidget on the ledges, the building become columbarium, with nest-holes for the breeding and fattening of squabs. But this is no rubblestone dovecote, hub of hectic production for the tables of abbots and barons. The block is more reliquarium, mausoleum for the housing of ashes.
The bird deaths are getting to me. Last night you flambeed chicken breasts in cognac, added red wine, silky shallots and button mushrooms. We stripped the coq au vin of its chocolate-brown robes, and later your lips moved over my limbs, prolonging the fleshy feast. But I’m not a collared – or a turtle – dove! Not a chicken, in the spring of its short life, nor a lone swallow flying back to Capestrano! I’m too young to have my small neck ruffed by a pigeonhole or my bones picked clean; too young to be pulverised for the cinerary jars of the columbarium; too young to lie frozen beside my mate, behind glass
Mary Noonan's first collection, The Fado House (Dedalus Press, 2012), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the Strong/Shine Award. She was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary in 2014. Father, a limited edition pamphlet, was published by Bonnefant Press in 2015. She is the current poetry editor of Southword Journal.