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New Irish Voices
Poetry chapbooks by
Roisin Kelly & Paul McMahon



Liberty Walks Naked
by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan



Chapbooks by Fool for Poetry
Competition Winners 2018

Not in Heaven by Molly Minturn
Bog Arabic by Bernadette McCarthy




Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes





Munster Literature Centre

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Paul McMahon

Born and reared in Belfast, Paul McMahon travelled abroad for sixteen years before returning to Ireland in 2005. In 2008 he completed the Masters Degree in Writing at NUI Galway, receiving First class honours. He has written and directed plays, including Parallels, which was performed as part of the Muscailt One Act Theatre Festival in Galway, 2008. His prose and poetry has been published in numerous journals, newspapers and online magazines. He is a member of The Atlantis Collective, the Galway based writing group whose second collection of short stories, Faceless Monsters, was launched as part of the Cúirt Literary festival. Paul is currently finishing his first book of non-fiction.






The girl with drowned sailors in her eyes


Her hair curled behind her flushed neck. It looked like a road. I stood at her right. She curled, shadowed, under my left shoulder. Behind us was a house, atop a hill, nippled against a blue sky. We were on a beach but you couldn’t see the sea.

When John arrived I put the photograph into the book I was reading – not at the page where I was – and into my pocket. I had asked him to meet me; I needed him to do a painting for me. We were sitting at a table outside a café by the Garavogue River in Sligo. It was sunny. Patience, I told myself, even though I don’t believe in patience.

The water ran white against the bridge. White cloud hung in the sky.


I saw her the previous night, in a dream. Her face was twisted around, looking back. As an earring, she wore a peacock feather. Her lips, at the side, were turned down. Her blue eyes were now red. Her Cinderella-feet had been stretched under her fallen breast and her Japanese bob had grown into a long plait that noosed around her neck that was the same colour of red it was flushed with, the last time I kissed it.


          “Do you think it will rain?” John said, looking up at the scattered cloud in the sky.

          “I hope so. It has to be painted outdoors,” I told him. “And it must be done in watercolours.”       


When the dream ended I was at the bottom of the ocean looking up to the surface. I could see the hull of a boat the size of a trawler. A rope lowered into the water and clenched around my waist like the arm of an octopus and winched me up towards the surface. Light flickered through the water as the hull of the boat got closer.


          “What colour is the eye of the peacock feather?”

          “It’s blue,” I told him.


          I looked down to the river. The rippled water smoothed for a moment reflecting the grey stone bridge.


          “What if it rains?” he asked me.

          “Leave it in the rain.”

          “With watercolours?”

          “I want the rain to untie the plait, to wash her eyes, to shrink her feet.”

          “Let’s go then.” John doesn’t ask too many questions and you can trust him to lie.  

As we both walked off along the side of the river towards the bridge I had the loose tubes of watercolours in my hand, in the pocket of my velvet jacket. John was looking ahead. I was looking up. 


In my mind I could already see the rain falling on her twisted neck pulling the black road of her hair back, the sides of her lips turning up again, her feet curving into little ears, her eyes with drowned sailors in them. Sunlight flickered through the water, rope clenched around my waist, the hull bobbing on the surface of the sea, a sweet voice in my ear’s memory, playfully scolding, filtered down through the water. Through the rippled surface, overboard, looking down into the water, framed against the sky, a Japanese bob.


I first saw her in a pub. She glanced at me, blinked, and looked away. After that one glance, it was as though she had curled around, inside me, and laid her head against my chest. I felt like I had stretched to the end of my elasticity. We went for a walk along the beach. A man with sandy hair and sandy eyes who was walking his dog took the photograph.


She told me about her ex-boyfriend. They met while they were both at college in Galway. They stayed together for three years until he began having an affair.

I pitied him; I knew what he had lost—I lost her too. He couldn’t lie—I thought that truth was more important. A woman doesn’t trust a man that can’t lie—no one can trust a man that can’t lie. She was petite, jet-black hair in a Japanese bob, blue eyes. He was called Tim. She was called Dominique.

Dominique told Tim that she and I were just friends. So began a painful charade of solicitude—he knew all along. We don’t hear the gun fire the bullet that hits us.

A few days over New Year she went to Rome. Everything changed. That was where the bullet found home.


After the photograph was taken on the beach I picked up a piece of bleached-white driftwood that I forgot and left in her car, that she brought into her apartment some time later, that got forgotten, remembered, then forgotten again, that will always be what it is and drift endlessly in and out of memory with the bleach-white tides.


          “Do you have the paint?” John asked me, as we approached his car.

          In my pocket, the tubes of watercolours felt warm.


We drove along the river, past the swans, and drove through a gridwork of country roads lined with old stone walls, towards Rosses Point.

The front of John’s house overlooked the sea. He set the easel up at the back of the house at the beginning of the long mowed lawn. Off in the distance, above the trimmed back hedge, was the nose of Ben Bulben risen into the darkened sky.


I set the blood-warm tubes of paint along the bottom shelf of his easel. John picked one up, twisted its red lid and squeezed red pigment onto the palette.


“The eye of the peacock feather was blue?”

"Yeah, blue," I answered.


He squeezed blue, green, white, black, side by side, then took the brush and disregarded their singular purity. 


Her face was twisted around, looking back. As an earring, she wore a peacock feather whose eye was blue. Her lips, at the side, were turned down. Her blue eyes were red. Her Cinderella-feet stretched under her fallen breast. Her Japanese bob was drawn into a long plait that noosed around her neck that was the same colour of red it was flushed with, the last time I kissed it.

And then it rained.


©2010 Paul McMahon





Author Links


McMahon poem 'Say Cheese' in alors, et toi?

More about the Atlantis Collective

Read an excerpt of McMahon's story in Town of Fiction

More about McMahon's musical compositions at MySpace






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