She put her small nose, pierced with a pearl,
To the open gramophone of the flowers,
One then the other, breathing both in,
Before getting up and walking casually
Around the room. She stopped suddenly,
Her heels raised off the floor,
Stretching an arch into her back, her taut arms
Rose straight up, wrists bent, fingers
Pulled into a tiger’s fist.
The tension shook out of her like heat.
She walked towards the light, picking up a book,
Flicked through it, then stood
By the side of the window, putting
The book down on the table, before putting
On any clothes. She had golden skin,
Golden hair, dark brown nipples, a short tuft
Of sandy pubis. She was unconcerned
About her own architectural beauty,
Unconcerned of my gaze, unconscious
Of my feeling of quiet wonder.
I pulled the curtain back.
Looked out the port-hole
And we sailed on.
Sailors on the banks of the Tiber
Eight A.M, early spring, Rome, 1996.
We huddled in the frozen dawn around the iron-cast
Of the missionary soup-kitchen door and cursed
The slow rise and false heat of the sun.
When the door creaked open we shuffled in.
Some entered as they do everywhere,
Crouched over like walking question marks,
Or thief-quick, but everyone was smiling.
In the food-line, a middle-aged prostitute winked unconfident
Blue and red eyelids at me, then turned to the hatch
Slamming the counter before two arms and the reluctant tray
Finally slipped through the faceless frame.
She turned away shrugging her spoon through the soup,
Working through the noodles and softening bread.
The queue thins, as does everything. Even here
Some are listened to by an audience of eye-corners.
Outside, the cobble is thawing,
Deflowered and canine. In here, arthritis
And broken bones act as weather stations,
Twitching in changing humidity. Mail arrives,
Shouted over tables, through the din, washed down
With wood-wine. When the soup is gone, philosophers appear,
Hemming and hawing through puffed clouds of tobacco smoke.
One old man is silently shaking, his fingers grip
The edge of his seat in a doomed dovetail, his crow’s eyes
Are shot. He couldn’t take a joke: his table
Was violently slammed during a moment
Of pin-drop silence. The soup kitchen echoes
With the booms of homeless laughter.
The shaking old man is not alone at sea.
All of us in this room are sailors, washed up
On the banks of the Tiber.
Paul McMahon holds an MA in Writing from NUI, Galway. His writing is published in Southword, Crannog, Ropes, Alor et toi, The 2nd Hand, The Sligo Weekender, and in two short story anthologies with the writing group, The Atlantis Collective. He was a finalist in the Listowel Writers Week, Slam fiction, 2010. His plays have been performed at The Dublin Fringe Theatre Festival, The Muscailt Theatre festival, Galway, and at The Hothouse New Writing. He is also a professional musician.
Fionán O’Connell. Born 1961. Trained as a Primary School teacher. Self-taught in photography. Married to Paula with two children Oisín & Laoise and living in Dublin, Fionán has been making a living from his work for twelve years. He has directed several television documentaries: Silverfish Productions’The Goat in The Temple, MOS Productions’ Good Man Mary, Windmill Lane Pictures’ A Quiet Revolution and In Search of Europe.