Anne Walsh Donnelly opens her chapbook The Woman with an Owl Tattoo, published by Fly on the Wall Press, with the no-holes barred, blaring, bold Guide to Becoming a Writer, a poem that documents a life in change, in search, in turmoil, in the depths of despair, indivisible from the pen. And we instantly know we don’t want this collection to end.
Death comes early to this collection, by the second poem in fact, limp body floating face down in the pond. The owl, who once watched the wife watch the husband sleeping, didn’t make it. The timer now ticks for that wife to decide her own fate.
What follows is an often comical, always honest account of how we ignore what we don’t yet understand, kiss things to distract us, perfectly documented in the poem History of My Sexual Encounters, speak vows that will only bury us and ignore the thoughts of the therapist until a waitress at the Costa checkout confirms the truth that cannot be concealed any longer, there is only so much support that can be bound within a bra.
These confessional poems, steeped in admissions, revelations to mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, are delivered with a very dry wit and yet we are never unaware of the fear and bravery it takes to speak and write each word but Anne always gives us the right to breathe and laugh with moments like the hilarious response from the daughter in the poem Coming Out to My Daughter that her once married-to-a-man mother now has a girlfriend ‘well, you’ll have company while I’m off at college’. Although the Irish father, traditionally never one for many words or a showing of too much affection, is the one who brings us to tears with his reply in the poem Coming Out to My Father which I will save for the reader to discover themselves. But have a tissue handy.
The poem Being in Love at 50 is rich with its symbolism, that dry desert suddenly flooded with wet vulvas, children re-drawing the images they had of their parents, boring polyester shirts for the ex’s and those liberating lace bras in cerise now worn for the new lover.
Just beyond the midway mark, the poem Ache of Naked Bodies shines in its simplicity, one of the shortest poems in the collection and yet it manages to hit the mark perfectly, just like that vision in the tallboy mirror as bodies are braided but when that tenderness does arrive, also depicted in the poem Someone to Watch Over Me, it is simply beautiful to witness.
There clearly have been so many bold, brave battles on the way to this point which makes the crescendo call of Mná na hÉireann resound in the soul, that final sensual understanding of your own identity and the acceptance of your body and its embrace by another body ‘how could you not want to drag a woman to bed at seven on a Saturday evening?’
The arrival of the tattoo in No More Fairy Tales inks forever into outer flesh the freedom that has been found within; our heroine, no longer tied to former entanglements, saves the princess and off they run for a happily ever-right-now, far away from that pond where the owl once drowned.
The final poem I Have Lived is a perfect example of how to end a collection that began by drawing us into a quest to find the self and culminates with a resounding yelp from the mountain top. An acceptance of who she was, what she did while lying next to his body and what she managed to become that left her licking the maple from another woman’s lips. We are left with the question ‘What is left there to explore?’
and we all shout for more, please, more!
The Woman With An Owl Tattoo is published by Fly on the Wall Press and available here…