Andrea MacPherson takes us on a grand tour of Europe, where the vast legacy of human history combines with her own ancestral origins to make a mark on her. In reaction, MacPherson assembles suites of deft, personal lyrics for each country. These poems consider the state of estrangement from the familiar and the shock of history's impress. Whether she is crossing the uneasy if commonplace border between north and south Ireland, visiting the ruins of a jute mill where her Scottish great-grandmother once worked, stopping for a kir on a ruelle in Montparnasse, or voyaging out by ferry into blue clarities of the Aegean, MacPherson is a traveller always aware of how her perceptions–and her self–are being shaped. In this book of quiet beauty and careful observation, MacPherson seeks to re-invent the travel poem on her own terms.
THROUGH THE KEYHOLE
Strange, this obsession with doors.
Captive doors. Execution-yard doors.
The doors of schoolhouses. Homes. Bathhouse doors.
I’ll return home with a full roll of pictures:
green, red, blue
sometimes black or brown.
Never photos of people entering or leaving.
Never faces, dark boots, pale hands.
Just the solid reminder that something waits behind.
(If you catch the right light,
you can almost see it through the keyhole.)
At eleven, my mother swam
in an outdoor pool in Arbroath.
She had come for grieving, but instead
found tight bands of blue held above her head,
broom surrounding the water.
They stayed in a caravan, avoiding
the seaport where her mother had
grown up, where her grandmother
had died while they were hovering
over the Atlantic. Landing, her mother cried,
sagging against their broken suitcases,
and my mother held her arm. Felt sorrow
most in the soft skin there.
They spent days in Broughty Ferry, listening
to the cry of gulls, and peering in store windows;
or Carnoustie where they ate at tiny fish shops
where my mother learned the texture of gills.
Her mother left with only a rose-gold
wedding band, a few porcelain figurines:
dogs, women in fancy dress, lambs.
And my mother took with her the memory
of water, smoked fish on her tongue.
The low slink of a cat beneath an outdoor table.
They are drawn to our plates of fish,
and the low light covering Fira.
Torches blaze around the perimeter,
as if feral cats might be turned feaful.
Fear is only for the tame.
Here, the spines of cats are more apparent
than their coats. Mangy. Matted.
They move between tables in hope,
perhaps aware of the empathy
in travellers who witness ancient shipwrecks.
This morning we watched a man
pretend to drown in an outdoor pool.
Feigned distress, his gurgled English
broken with Dutch, as he mocked
those swallowed by the Aegean.
Small felines sunk in boats heavy with cargo.
Fear only reaching them
as they first learned the taste of salt
the thick cut of it through fur.