Paul McMahon

Two Horses, Tom’s Pouch of Cure-Stones & A Junkyard Full of Flowers

Paul McMahon

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Two Horses

When I saw two horses running

in a fenced-in field

I thought of us.

A bird on a balcony, in a cage –

I thought of you

watching me try

too hard;

a dog on a lead – our time


taking turns

walking it.

The mice playing in the attic –

the doubt-nibbling un-

certainty; the spider waiting –

the spread web

of hope-

less wasted time.

The cat slipping out the cat-flap

without looking back

to roam the night –

my wonder

at the wonder-

ful need

to keep on

marvelling upon

the marvellously


And the morning sun

rising at dawn – that

all is where it is


Tom’s Pouch of Cure-Stones

When Tom was still alive

I would often see him

looking up to the sky

while standing out in the field

at the back of his farmhouse –

and when I had the chance

to ask him, one day in the local,

what he was looking at,

Tom took a black felt pouch

out from his pocket

and handed it to me.


They fell from the sky,

he said, cure-stones,

for curing elf-shot in cows,

when the cow starts to pine away

for no reason – hit by the fairies,

the old folk say. As I clutched

the clutch of hidden stones

and went to untie the pouch’s lace,

he told me the pouch must never

be opened nor can the stones

ever be looked upon or counted.


The pouch of cure-stones

was given to him by his father

as were the words of the cure,

he said, as I turned the concealed

cure-stones within the palm

of my hand. The stones were round

and smooth, the size of marbles –

blind eyes kept in the dark

from where they see

into the sickness of the cow.


The pouch is passed

over the cow’s back,

in the sign of the cross,

Tom explained, while reaching

his blue-veined hand out to bless

the air – and I imagined him

at the afflicted animal’s side

caressing the top of its head

with one hand, the other hand

blessing the pouch over its back,

the Braille of stones praying in

through the animal’s hide

as Tom whispers the words of the cure 

into the felt conch of the cow’s ear,

an incanted bovine language

handed down from the wind

that blows the slow dreams of trees

into the ghost-birds who haunt

the fallen autumn leaves.


When I suggested to Tom

the stones may have been coughed up

from the smoothing gall of a seagull’s bladder

whilst flying high overhead, he just smiled,


as the wise are known to do

when mocked by the foolish,


and when I gave Tom his pouch

of cure-stones back, he returned it

to his pocket and stood to go.

The stones were needed, he said,

by a neighbour’s cow.


Although Tom passed away

many years ago, I’ve heard

some people still see him,

standing out there

in the middle of the same field

at the back of his now derelict,

roofless farmhouse,

looking up at the sky, they say,

while quickly raising his right hand

up above his head.


I just smile, when people wonder

at what he might be doing,

as I know that Tom

must have finally untied

the lace on his pouch


and, one by one,

he is throwing

his clutch of ghost-stones


back up into the sky.

A Junkyard Full of Flowers

As she fumbled with the buttons of her jeans

the musk 

           of her warmth

rose from the swan of her neck and mixed

with the fog-wet

           of the cold alley wall.

The streetlight, covered in a speckled veil of drizzle,

flooded the alley

          in aquarium-blue light.

The muddy puddles we had just splashed through

settled back

          into stillness – 

tapered with petroleum rainbows, as smooth as her silk eyes –

they lay on the concrete

          gaping up like apertures,

photographing the wild moonlight and recording it

into the scriptures

           of riverbed churches.

In her husky voice I heard the rumbling of mad oceans

and I saw stars and trembling bridges

          walk frail light

to the ledges of the visions beyond the woodland path

as it turns through the forest

          and out of sight.


A car swerved into view. In its headlight, the cloudy mirage

of her breath

            lit up in the air,

leaving the rose of its afterimage hanging there until the car drove on

and the darkness snatched it –

            its grip pressing out

the illuminated perfume from the wrung blossom

which spread through

            the blue alley,

leaving, in place of the strewn cast-offs,

a junkyard

           full of flowers.

Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon’s debut poetry chapbook, Bourdon, was published by Southword Editions in November, 2016.

Poetry awards include The Ballymaloe International, The Nottingham Open, The Westport, The Golden Pen, 2nd prize in The Basil Bunting, 2nd prize in The Salt International, and literature bursary awards from The Arts Council of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He was awarded The Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize by Carol Ann Duffy in 2015.

Twice nominated for the forward prize, his poetry has appeared in journals such as The Threepenny Review, The Stinging Fly, The Honest Ulsterman, Abridged, Agenda, The Atlanta Review, and others.

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