The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Paul McMahon: 1 Poem Published

Poem by Paul McMahon (Ireland)

Published in The Ofi Press issue 49




Sailors on the Banks of the Tiber


Eight a.m., early December, Rome.

I huddled in the frozen dawn

around the soup kitchen door

as the jostling crowd cursed

the false heat and slow rise of the sun.


When the door finally creaked open

we all shuffled in. Some entered


as they do everywhere, others were crouched over,

or thief-quick but everyone was smiling.




In the food-line, a middle-aged prostitute

winked unconfident blue and red eyelids at me

before turning to the hatch, slamming the counter

until two arms and the reluctant tray

finally slipped through the faceless frame.


She turned away, shrugging her spoon through the soup,

working through the noodles and the softening bread.




The queue thins,

as does everything.




Even here some are only listened to

by an audience of eye-corners.




Outside, the cobble is thawing,

deflowered and canine.




In here, arthritis and broken bones act as weather stations,

twitching in changing humidity.




Stories arrive, shouted over tables, through the din,

washed down with wood-wine.



When the soup is gone

philosophers appear,


hemming and hawing

through puffed clouds of tobacco smoke.




One old man at the table next to me

is silently shaking in shock,

his fingers grip the edge of his seat

in a doomed dovetail,

his crow’s eyes are shot –

he couldn’t take a joke:


five minutes ago

during a moment

of pin-drop silence


his table was violently slammed.




The soup kitchen is still



with the booms

of homeless laughter.




The shaking old man

is not alone at sea –




all of us in this room

are drowned sailors




washed up on the exposed

banks of the Tiber.


About the Poet

Paul McMahon lives in Cork. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming  in The Threepenny ReviewThe Stinging FlyAtlanta Review, The Salt Anthology of New Writing (2013), The Montreal International Poetry Prize Global Anthology (2013), Agenda, The Moth, The Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Southword, Poetry Saltzburg ReviewCrabcreek Review, Crannog, Ambit, Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, and others. His poetry has also been broadcast on RTE Radio.

He has won a number of prizes for poetry including The Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize (2015), The Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize (2011), The Nottingham Poetry Open (2012), The Westport Arts Festival Poetry Competition (2012), The Golden Pen Poetry Prize (2011), second prize in The Basil Bunting Poetry Award (2012), second in The International Salt Prize for Poetry (2013), an Arts Bursary award, for poetry, from The Arts Council of Ireland, and a SIAP bursary Award, for poetry, from The Arts Council of N. Ireland.

His unpublished debut poetry collection, The Girl with Drowned Sailors in her Eyes, was a finalist in the Fool for Poetry Chapbook Prize (2015), shortlisted for The Listowel Poetry Collection Prize (2015), and was given a Special Commendation in The Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award (2015).

Image: "Turkey Leg Bone" by Handarmdoc.

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