Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This 7 Year Old Walks Into a Bar, poetry by Gill O'Halloran

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 52 pages

• Publisher: Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2009

• ISBN-10: 0956199151

• ISBN-13: 978-0956199157

You know how it is when you walk into a bar. Dark, dusky, a bit sour-smelling. But you throw back that first golden scotch, and it sears all the way down, and suddenly, the world takes on a golden hue, too. It’s a type of gold that is touched with the enlightenment of experience, of living life all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, and make no mistake—seven year olds that walk into bars have plenty of life experience.

Gill O’Halloran came to me from across the ocean, from London, England, floating on a recommendation of a trusted literary friend. It was the recommendation that assured me this would be a worthy read. It was the poetry I found inside this slim volume that assured me this is the kind of dusky place where I would hang out, too. I sidled up to the poet at the bar and took it all in.

And I stood dry-eyed, grief baked
into the empty pot of skin around
my wasted heart…

Oh yeah. This was going to be good, and go deep. These are the poems of a poet who has not shied away from shadows, and seeing those, being inside of those, recognizes light. There are both in these poems. There is the suffering and loss of a betrayed love, of a beaten woman, of a mother without child. There is the shaft of light that is epiphany. There is surrender, and submission, and the murkiness of absorption into a lesser soul when self-respect is stripped away. There is new hope. There is understanding, revenge, forgiveness, and healing. There is the remembering, the salt in the wound, the stitching into stiffened and enduring scars.

No doubt in part because of the poet’s work in a hospice (there are poignant descriptions of caring for the helpless and dying), also with knowledge about addiction and co-dependency (she is the author of Introduction to Co-dependency for Counselors, published under the name Gill Reeve), many of her poems expose the underbelly of abuse in relationships.

I’ve built houses from straw with the wolf’s consent,
electric song of settlers’ psalms ring-fencing my land.
Skated on cents while dollars fluttered in the wind,
trigger-weary hands mending mainsprings,
pendulums, clocks long stopped.

She writes knowingly of the emergence back into an unaccustomed light:

But you called me out to the fields beyond,
where your open arms welcome
the punishing sky.
You told me off
for clinging to the undergrowth …

And I crept sheepish from the woods,
felt the pitiless sun warm my trepid face
and began to tread the fields with you.
Unbrave, oh so unbrave.

O’Halloran is a strong poet with a strong heart, willing to risk, and where in many poems she succeeds with gorgeous turn of phrase, with expert finishing lines that leave the reader breathless, in others she flops, misses her cue, and vanishes with a whimper where there should have been a cry. And still, this can be forgiven. This collection is, overall, like fine aged scotch, and any hangover the next morning is well worth the evening spent in its company.

He collapses under questioning. He is only hearsay,
only a wistful lie he hears himself say; a mugged memory. He knows
his father’s eye was eclipsed by the dark moon of jealous women.
Maybe once he did something good, but his father did not see it.

And still the memory swims against his knowledge,
swims without choice or hope of progress, like a tethered fish, a reed.

Listen, for that kind of poetry, I’ll venture even into the dankest corner bar. This is worth the price, at any price. And the kid at the corner of the bar? That seven year old? That’s the kid in each of us, drunk with life, emerging from our adult shadows and still knowing how to play.

~for The Smoking Poet, Winter 2009-2010 Issue

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