Turlough and Overseen, two poems by Paul McMahon

February’s two Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems


We named our baby Turlough
even though he wasn’t to see
the sun, hear the wind,
or breathe.

The name Turlough
tolled in my head
as we stood outside
the horseshoe doorway

of a tiny twelfth-century church
nestled into a copse of trees
on a small hill
in the middle
of the Swiss Alps.

When I uttered
his doomed naming
his fate was sealed
like a death knell –

the hospital appointment
was set for the following day.

A canopy of poplars
shaded us from the July sun.
I crouched onto my hunkers
and she stood over me,

casting her own dark layer
between the laminations
of penetrating shadow
as the wind made a conch of the trees
when the breeze swirled
through the soft summer leaves
like the sea.


Three days later,
as we drove away
from the hospital,

I watched her desperate hands
clutch the poised wheel
and watched out
for oncoming traffic.


That evening
we wrote Turlough
on a rip of paper,

folded it carefully
then laid it upon
the un-struck matches

in the open drawer
of a full

then pushed it closed
and threw it
onto the small fire

we had lit
in a corner
of the stubbled cornfield.

When the fire died out
we gathered the ashes
into a tin

and we spread them
over the church grounds
where we named him

before going inside
to kneel before
the flaking altar.


A week later we drove away
with a car full of everything we owned,
with everything we’d lost,
and drove on
to the only place left for us to go.


She put her small nose,
pierced with a pearl, to the open gramophone
of each of the two flowers,

one – then the other,

breathing both in,
before getting up to walk casually
around the room.

* She stopped suddenly,
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 on towards the light,


picked up a book,
flicked through it,
then stood by the side
of the window

and looked out,

before putting the book down
on the table

to take off
her nightgown.


She had milk skin,
blackberry hair,
dark brown nipples,
a short tuft
of buffalo pubis.


She was unconcerned
about her own
architectural beauty,
about my gaze,

of my feeling
of quiet wonder.


I pulled the curtain back,
looked out the port-hole

and we sailed on.