An Act of Fatherhood, poems by Edward O’Dwyer
Edward O’Dwyer is a poet and fiction writer from Limerick, Ireland. He is the author of the poetry collections, The Rain on Cruise’s Street (2014), which was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, and Bad News, Good News, Bad News (2017), both from Salmon Poetry. A collection of very short fictions, Cheat Sheets (Truth Serum Press, 2018), is his latest book, consisting of 108 dark comedies on the theme of infidelity, and described by Donal Ryan as “wicked little gems.” He is currently working on a third poetry collection, Exquisite Prisons, and a sequel collection to Cheat Sheets. His work is nominated regularly for Pushcart, Forward and Best of the Web prizes. He has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Award and taken part in Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series. His poem, ‘The Whole History of Dancing’, won the Eigse Michael Hartnett Festival 2018 ‘Best Original Poem’ prize.
An Act of Fatherhood
It starts with a beautiful and heart-warming image.
A man holds his infant child to his chest,
bobs and rocks the child there gently, rhythmically.
No one would doubt that this was soothing.
The sun is shining and the caretakers
have done a wonderful job in getting the park
looking so well for the summer months ahead.
He is only one of many out with a baby.
There are also many with dogs, and many
sprawled on blankets reading books, and many
on benches eating packed lunches.
When he begins to toss the infant ever so slightly
into the air, it appears that it should be less soothing,
but still no tears come and indicate distress.
Soon, as his throws build gradually in force,
until his baby is flying several feet up into the air,
there is a crowd forming around the scene.
He expertly tosses his child higher and higher
and, just as expertly, catches it on its way down.
He doesn’t seem to notice the crowd forming at all,
just carries on obliviously in this act of fatherhood.
Dozens of mobile phones are held aloft,
taking pictures, recording videos, the possibility
of something that might go viral on the internet.
He could very well be an Olympic gold medallist
at the shot put or hammer toss, so impressive
is the strength with which he is able to fling
his baby towards the sky and then catch it again
as gravity sends it hurtling back down.
By all appearances, the baby is still soothed,
no wails of discomfort or fear leaving its lips,
though it must be reaching as high as twenty feet.
By this point, it seems everyone in the park
has joined the vast circle around him and his baby.
When he miscalculates ever so slightly, missing
the catch, he looks immediately horrified, devastated.
Everyone around has heard the sickening thud
of baby hitting concrete, seen the little bounce
before falling still, a mess of small limbs.
He kneels down, panic-stricken, tends to the bundle
while the crowd watches on, collectively paralysed,
seemingly unable to believe what has happened
is real, all the while their hands still in the air
and their videos still recording.
As red liquid moves slowly outwards from the baby,
covering the surrounding concrete, several bodies
slump to the ground, losing consciousness,
while one woman ejects a stream
of projectile vomit into the grass.
At this, the infant’s father gets back to his feet,
turns to face the crowd with a wave and a smile,
takes a deep bow, and another, and another,
and another: the four main compass points.
Then he scoops up his blood-soaked child
and begins waving its inanimate hand
in gratitude towards the audience.
When My Stalker Left Me
She was finally gone,
whether that was for having bored,
or for having lost attraction,
or for having come, against likelihood,
into a spell of well-adjustedness.
I thought when my stalker left me
life could go back to normal,
that regularity might resume seamlessly,
never thought there could be loss,
or doubt, or abandonment –
that there could be longing,
that I might turn a corner in the street
to her not being there
and feel desire for it,
and know it then as desire,
her pinched-looking face staring
both adoringly and murderously,
her straight, wiry hair
refusing to catch on a billowy wind.
I’ve felt my self-esteem bleeding away
from wounds I don’t know how to find,
a flow I cannot staunch,
and all my friends keep telling me
I should think of speaking to a therapist,
when all I’ve asked them
is how I might go about
getting her back in my life.
Some day in the future,
perhaps my poems will be on the curriculum,
the tepid topic of classroom debates,
being sliced open, pinned apart
like worms or frogs,
under unfocused microscopes.
I’ll be teenage headaches
and paper jets flying through the air
on another dragging afternoon.
I’ll be the agony over a word
the indifference for a word
I’ll be a photocopier’s bulimia
on freezing Monday mornings,
a teacher’s long pause
to think up tonight’s homework assignment.
I’ll be a series of bullet points
on a blackboard,
in a revision book,
on the inside of a sleeve.
A Lush Green Field
My steak arrives on a big white plate,
and so I take a quick moment
to imagine an over-the-moon cow
standing in a lush green field,
chewing the cud and mooing enthusiastically
again and again, and at nothing in particular,
her large head empty of any thoughts
of a tragically cut-short future
in which her flesh sizzles on a pan
to be served then with pepper sauce,
sautéed onion and mushroom
and two kinds of potato.
The sky is blue and she is beautiful,
in spite of her incessant belching
and flatulence, none of which
she feels any embarrassment for.
Of course, if I make any mention
of methane, or global warming,
or greenhouse gas emissions,
I don’t imagine it will mean much to her,
and she’ll just gaze back at me
with those big, innocent brown eyes,
and continue whipping her tail
at the same pesky flies,
sure as can be that the field she stands in
will always be so lush and green,
for the simple reason that it is
her world, and so why should it not?