by Mary O'Malley

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A compilation of skillful poetry charting the journey of Ireland through economic boom and bust, this book, which was inspired on an Irish research ship, explores the science of going under and staying afloat. Touching upon other subjects as well, including love and homecoming, this collection asks what effects such transformations have on the imagination.


A compilation of skillful poetry charting the journey of Ireland through economic boom and bust, this book, which was inspired on an Irish research ship, explores the science of going under and staying afloat. Touching upon other subjects as well, including love and homecoming, this collection asks what effects such transformations have on the imagination.

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Carcanet Press, Limited
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5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

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By Mary O'Malley

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Mary O'Malley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-647-1


Those who go on voyages seldom come back holy. Thomas à Kempis

    Poem on a Leaf

    for Kevin

    Be life veined
    Be strong as winter.
    Be the sun's dance
    On every water.

    The Way

    Out now, the years gone up in smoke
    the firebird in ashes. It's time.
    The sun is rolling up the slope,

    a thousand people rang the fire brigade last night.
    A five year old was shot, children are burning.
    I could write many verses to stop this flight

    the packed red suitcase, the light's pewter slant
    on the water. And have. But back to leaving. I am.
    The ice blue nights, the carapace of wit

    hidden like some mermaid's cap.
    Leaving the jewelled women, the men like cattle
    heavy, smug. No plans, just a cheap

    flight to some mythic city called Hotel
    or Airport. There are no countries left
    only the deep territories, the blackened hills.

    At night we miss our countries and whisper secretly
    how we loved their fragile borders,
    their lakes, their fields too green for mercy.

    You'll go to the interior, and choose your mountain.
    I'll take the coast.
    How strange setting out in the world again.

    I hear the earth is not reliable, the poles
    not where they ought to be. I never thought they would,
    but wanted stamps, and rest among the pilgrim souls

    all maps discarded, just the studded way of paintings
    signposted in shells, the hope of travellers' courtesy
    and all our road unravelling before us.

    At Jardin des Plantes

    The sea begins where the story has broken
    and it is richer than heaven
    especially in mid-ocean

    where creatures like pearls hang
    dead spheres, eggs without shells.
    They are preyed on by few

    in their spectral world. Once a globe
    of blue pulsed down faster than war
    rare as a monk shinning down a rope.

    Inside the diving bell a man
    who might have saved or loved them
    saw nothing. His blindness became wisdom

    and they were left alone for years
    until curious Frenchmen turned
    their journeying minds

    to the pelagic, the profound
    region and saw that those milky creatures
    shy as spectres in the diver's arc

    have one talent, which is repulsing light
    to save themselves
    from notice and from death.

    Decades before, whole schools
    on rue St Jacques and in the Marais
    became empty plaques

    because pearl children failed
    to escape detection when Picasso
    and all France closed their eyes to avoid

    the light that shone on Max Jacob
    and Irène Némirovsky and found them luminous
    in those penumbric times. Discovered

    what the twilight creatures knew until
    they too were investigated and turned
    into exhibits to make us flinch or marvel

    at what we manage not to notice
    until it is presented tagged and dead
    a story on a glued vase, in jagged pieces.


    He hung over the side a cigarette discarded
    a chain with its crucified Christ
    flashing in the sun, and blessed himself.
    His breath opened O and again O
    took in the whole element and time
    and all the sub-atomic particles,
    took them into his chest and dived.

    He found the old half-rotted star clock
    all bronze and green and verdigris, then
    he saw the women coming at him like ghosts
    falling towards him out of the wreck
    with their strange virginity, and dropped it.
    By the time he reached the surface
    he was gabbling, they said, about bodies

    said it with their kind's terror of superstition.
    Flattened like an old watch dumped
    its secret stayed buried in a lost codex
    long after the pearl diver found it,
    teeth at an angle, grinning at the moon.
    Then they got it all wrong and squabbled
    like bankers over their interpretations.

    They say its clock was set at Libra
    which may mean nothing
    though blind chance did not design the cogs,
    chance, or some rival fleet, sank the ship.
    Scientists computed, disputed its purpose
    but it was into the sponge diver's arms
    the beautiful dead women fell.

    It was he found the treasure
    because he was down there among the old irons,
    old bottles, poking around where it all starts
    with the sea-crazed star-hungry sea-crossed.


    The sea is a language scientists parse
    sentences of current and wave.
    Fishermen speak it, sing it, curse
    its dynamics when it raves.

    Dido, Gráinne, Bríd

    Some believe you do not choose the myth
    it fastens to you at birth and come the day,
    you recognise it, own or deny
    as here in a room in the Fifth
    where priests were made
    and unmade she enters, Dido
    from the river, to help.

      Her trick
    of getting territory not through marriage,
    but with bull's hide and mathematical brilliance
    reminds me of Bríd, our spring saint,
    our virgin politician and that Gráinne
    who saddled power and broke it,
    had the man, the child, the grief and did not,
    that we know of, complain.

    Recession Eve

    Ban teabags. Grow your own
    oranges and chocolate. Divine
    the limestone for the best wine.

    Take up knitting and learn to stitch. Good luck.
    It's deadly dull, though you could knit
    yourself a new man or assemble one quick

    enough from Chinese barbecue instructions
    with missing bits, a leg sticking out like an elbow
    and wonky logic, just like the old malediction.

    He would fix the roof, protect you from storms
    and in an ideal world, while you knit a garden
    with a tree in blossom, unblock the drains.

    Then forgetting the heartache, the dropped stitches
    you'd eat the apple out of his hand again
    and spin gold from the serpent's promises.

    Mystical Things

    Wars and worse. Mantillas, headscarves
    male and female bicycles.
    Add churching, sex
    mortal, venial and reserved
    and you have our miserable childhood
    in a soundbite
    though not four angels round my head
    not the rose on the pillow
    not the old dried blood on the wall.

    Is it different in India? At night
    Ghandi had two virgins to test his purity.
    He was old then, dear old skin and bones.
    Two virgins just like St Scrotius. For God's sake
    why not whiskey and cake?


    In each new city you pray to fling down your crutches.
    It never happens, even here with the Eiffel Tower
    sparkling like a panther's necklace and the Dior police
    with their eager truncheons. You think you can still riot?
    You, hobbling along on your understated crutches
    under the protection of lipstick and Sainte Chapelle – such blue!
    – and your ruined foot in your green iguana shoes?

    In the Seminary

    I sleep fitfully. Last night I dreamed myself
    in the arms of one man, woke to the care
    of a cold lover, old friend. This comfort, so rare
    in my convent state, makes me rash. What if?

    Faith. Why not? Buy a blue silk skirt on Rue Princesse
    put it on and head out along the drunken river
    to meet destiny or death, a trace of cognac on his lips.
    How do you like your green-eyed girl now, Mister?


    It's been half a lifetime but I've tried.
    I called, I phoned, I e-mailed

    and besides the odd sign and one
    ten-fingered miracle, no word from you.

    I'm fine. If you're there you'll know
    that lies like this are venial so

    how about yourself? Things fall apart.
    I might be talking to myself but faith

    unfashionably dies hard as hope
    so I thought this telegram might work

    being urgent and old-fashioned
    and you so out of favour, Lord.

    The Lost Boys

    Like old action men, their limbs askew
    from too much bashing, their knotted faces
    stare at the sky when they are put out
    on the city dump for recycling
    the lost boys.

    They are plastic, indestructible.
    When their world breaks into splinters, each
    piece reflects jaggedly. At best this mosaic hurts the
    eye and the soul snags on it. (The soul is not plastic.)
    This is what they long for, the lost boys:

    the sun to fall
    into the lake and, silvered, become moon
    mirror, whole again in which the other's face
    eyes, heart are seen as in a game of divination
    at Hallowe'en. The heart with their name.

    Instead a hand
    holds a cup, china, delicate, walking across a minefield.
    On her finger a jade ring. Her warm smell is missing.
    One hand, one cup, tea gleaming like honey
    in the mirror's shattered eye.

    Two Heads on a Landscape

    after Goya

    They have no cities here and starve for want of
    one whose swan castigates God, one black exiled
    angel beating for his dead love, as the spinster sister
    wheels towards France like a lost plane, her brothers flown

    from Lough Derravaragh, with women of their
    own. We choose our fate in those double-ended stories.
    Out of the rubble, the rows of tinpot houses,
    the new ghettos, from the bottom of endless potholes,

    the moon laughs at them, cityless.
    Only the scrap tower, honest coinage, gleams.
    The changing heart is a two-dimensioned house
    and they lie silently in its thin shelter, pitiless

    as a kicked dog howls and whimpers. They
    wake to the tin carousel of the next morning and the
    next, which we call lucky. They wanted more,
    that sin, original, and still the best. Love, of sorts.

    Instress in Ireland

    on the publication of the Ryan Report

    From ibi to illic the road up down one is paved
    with muons, pions, men in cassocks,
    seeds of blight in a child's iris deflected
    distorted, trodden down when all the soul
    requires is a champagne glass
    brimming with claritas

    and sweet neutrinos passing through
    leaving such faint traces
    driving through our teeming nights. All this time
    they were passing through us like ghosts
    about their own purposes
    silent as grace, the glorious mysteries.

    O Plato, Scottus, Ignatius with your rotted stalks
    we should have turfed you out years before this.


    We got our Christianity from Egypt, not Rome
    But the Pope won
    So all the convent girls sing oh oh oh
    De Bello, Bello Gallico.

    The White City

    i.m. John O'Donoghue

    is the one we carry with us. Its walls shield
    us from the salt wind. In the discalced lanes,
    people with occupied faces stream along
    about their business and do not regard you
    with suspicion. Perhaps they recognise you
    as one returned after a lifetime away in places
    where orderly crowds flow only towards graves.

    A man your age is being buried today.
    A million hands are raised to strike
    at children, or worse. A million fingers
    move along their lovers' cheeks,
    stretching away to infinity like powers of ten.
    There are millions left for mopping up

    and to click keyboards by the blue light
    of absolute stupidity. There are perhaps
    twenty generals brilliant with ambition
    and sex waiting in the wings.
    The white city pulses in the sun,
    wanton as May, ordered as the moon.

    There are cafés, a rented room, the comfort
    of strangers. Bright scarves trail like adjectives
    along the waterfront. The man I summon
    speaks of the Tao and a Jesuit education.
    Nothing really happens there or here he says,     but time passes. It passes through us and tells me
    he wants to live to be old, to know how it feels.

    The Lisbon Bride

    It floats in on an imaginary horizon seeping light,
    its slender bridge, and the old rose streets
    restored every few hundred years.
    After the great fire, lilies and carnations – snow white

    rose red – explode in recompense. There is safety
    in cities built on earthquake lines.
    You know where you stand, if not exactly
    when it will all explode and the surprising thing is

    mostly it doesn't, underpinned as it is by lament,
    so much less brittle than joy. Peacocks scream
    like political prisoners, their cries shivering out
    over the walls in hot daylight. They are rare, white.

    A girl newly arrived in Seteais calls for tea
    imperious as all brides. The marriage will not work.
    When she enters the city this time she will pity
    their love, the cracks already spreading, the aftershocks.


Excerpted from Valparaiso by Mary O'Malley. Copyright © 2012 Mary O'Malley. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mary O’Malley is a poet, a writer for both radio and television, and a lecturer in writing at the National University of Ireland. She is a member of Aosdána and the Poetry Council for Ireland as well as the author of The Boning Hall, A Perfect V, and Three Irish Poets.

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