Thomas McCarthy – Masks

McCarthy profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume Two, December 2020.

Thomas McCarthy was born at Cappoquin, Co. Waterford in 1954 and educated locally and  at University College Cork. He was an Honorary Fellow of the International Writing programme, University of Iowa in 1978/79. He has published The First Convention (1978), The Lost Province (1996), Merchant Prince (2005) and The Last Geraldine Officer (2009) as well as a number of other collections. He has also published two novels and a memoir. He has won the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize and the O’Shaughnessy Prize for Poetry as well as the Ireland Funds Annual Literary Award. He worked for many years at Cork City Libraries, retiring in 2014 to write fulltime. He was International Professor of English at Macalester College, Minnesota, in 1994/95. He is a former Editor of Poetry Ireland Review and The Cork Review. He has also conducted poetry workshops at Listowel Writers’ Week, Molly Keane House, Arvon Foundation and Portlaoise Prison (Provisional IRA Wing). He is a member of Aosdana. His collection Pandemonium was published by Carcanet Press in November, 2016. His new work, Prophecy, was published by Carcanet in April, 2019. McCarthy (poet)


You were with me in Venice in a world golden and red.
I was a Cardinal, and you were, I’m not sure.
The boatman on the vaporetto was cursing your lost shoe,
The madness of high heels on cobblestones.
We were far too soon for the Festival, but festive still
In the way travel prepares us to be festive,

The world towering above us in celebration
And us never wanting shelter.
Or that time you wore a mask that made you
Into Boy Robin, in search
Of Superman and what a Superman might do to you:
The cloak that covered you was a cape

Of possibilities. Unlike the masks we wear now,
Masks for the un-festival, the dissolution
Of things that sparkle. This functional mask
Has us backing away from a great plague, the wrath
Of God in the rearrangement of joy;
The world we come home to after a night on the town.

After the Heat

The way that the afflicted in this place have become attached to me
Is an unwanted dog. This earthly island

And its transcendent self
Is like something I’ve owned for too long,
A stray terrier I’m trying to lose at the crossroads.

Here the four roads diverge and try
To dislodge a coffin. The mourners scatter

And the hearse is brimming with spirits,
Though there is no one left alive to improvise a wake.

Music grows distant and time is reversed;
The summer splits open

And a moth flies out of its broken half.
There is nothing reassuring to celebrate and yet

The hope of the world is in such heat

As I felt when a boy, as a boy does who had to drown
The spectre that whimpered, the ghost of a weakness following.

In Warren Hallamore’s House

It was in his house I wondered how my own life would seem
With a different typography. There was a T.P. Flanagan
Above the lighting fire: the artist, a cat, a painter’s brush,
And the generous space on canvas or paper when an artist
Knows how not to cohere too completely. Mr. Hallamore,
At that moment, offered me the gift of his blue yachting
Jacket with silver buttons, something he had cast aside
From his American life. Incongruous as the blue in canvas,
I took it into my own arms, the sparkling fire incongruous
In both our faces. There was something in the space we made
That was hallucinatory: American consonants marshalled
As he spoke generously, his gifting used with a precision
I’d never seen before. When the light fell on one silver
Button from that Newport club, I could see my own face and
Its ungrateful certainties, the reflection like a hovering pen.

© Thomas McCarthy