Mandy Macdonald

The temperature of blue
They told us, at school, the colour blue was cold. 
We loaded up our big poster-paint brushes
with Prussian blue and painted sea, wondering
what Prussia had to do with it, and where
was Prussia anyway? We painted sky
sky-blue, though it was nearly always grey. 
We wore stiff navy tunics,  forget-me-not shirts
that didn’t keep us warm, which proved the point.
Now they say, blue is not always cold.
There are warm blues and cool ones. Closeness to violet,
nudging red, makes a blue warm. Think of
northern summer nights, the sky a lucent ultramarine,
horizon tinged with late rose.
                                                 After all,
Homer’s wine-dark Mediterranean makes  sense.
At this sky-scorched café in the plaza 
I sit and read your letter – on that damned 
blue paper you’re so fond of. It’s your anger,
the blazing paraffin flares of it,
that I can’t understand. You say you are
rejected. You say I’ve cast you off.
It’s cold out here, you write, as though you were
away on some exoplanet, not just in
another town, a little further north.
You say that I blow hot and cold, as though
fire and ice were not the way love is.
As though I were your Arctic. Frozen, burned,
I see now that I’ve never known what lies
beyond the icy shoreline of your eyes.  

i watch you bask in me
your eyes closed under my skies
            i am the dawn the firmament
            to you only a woman
            as far as you know
your eyes closed you
might miss the moment of gold
we are two
innocent alchemists playing
with time in the sun
making pots of sandcastle
gold       you glow between my
midas hands
            for now
then when i’m resting in your arms
my flower body refreshed
calyx just a moment ago welcoming
            for us both to drink at
close your eyes again and
we turn back into our
selves of plain substances
            (but can you see how i am
            flecked with gold?)

At the dialysis unit

that scarlet ribbon
winds from elbow bend
down, around, pulsating as
lifeblood makes its march
to the outside and
            in again
            and again
this ritual, this
arcane assemblage, these
machines of loving grace[1]
their smiling screens
bland blue bodies
low kindly hum
that ceaselessly swallow,
digest, recycle blood, march it
            onward and roundward
            onward and roundward
we sit beside his bed
talk quietly of family on holiday
the ward’s acquaintances
the surprise of spring snow
but I can glance only sidelong
at the red life thread winding
from the elbow bend where
a portal of pleated flesh
has been made for it
my eyes will not follow
the purifying journey
down and around
look up, white
swirls like a murmuration
look down, red
glides like a plainchant
down and around and between
the stone columns of resistance, of
hanging on
that will not let him die

Arms, throat wide, she shrieked
in rageful fortissimo
stamped, stomped, set the tempo
wrists bent inward like broken wings
conducted the performance
flailingly, unfailingly
the most intimate details to the room
in earthquakes of joy, tsunamis of anger,
unquenchable, sizzling
acid reflux of disappointment
palpitating  howling  barking
roll up roll up, see my heart
bare, hear it
And the room roared and whistled and yelled and clapped
and clapped and clapped and CLAPPED and CLAPPED
And the café walls cracked open and let in
the night and the rain and the cars in the street
and people fell off their chairs onto
people sitting crosslegged on the floor
and the coffee boiled and the cakes burst into flame
and our ears bled
but not our hearts.
And then i remember
a girl’s confession, whispered
through a grille in darkness
perfume of cedarwood, lattice
more Islamic than Roman
memory of incense deep in the walls
bless me, father, quia peccavi
and the Father’s voice,
a soporific tenor that had never left Cork
anchored on two notes, minor third falling
ego te absolv-o         a peccatis tu-is – 
was he really listening, or just singing to himself?
My little sins so mundane
swearing, scowling, ‘answering back’,
being touched by a boy and liking it
the cedarwood grille was more exotic
my performance never worth more than
three Hail Marys and a Credo, dear, in nomine Patris,
et Fil-ii, et Spiritus Sancti, A-men.

[1] From Richard Brautigan, ‘All watched over by machines of loving grace’

Photo: Danny Richards

Mandy Macdonald is an Australian writer and musician living in Aberdeen, trying to make sense of the 21st and other centuries. She has been writing poetry for much of her life, clandestinely, but finally began letting other people see it after returning to poetry via Jo Bell’s path-breaking ‘52’ project.  Now it has been seen by readers of several anthologies and many online and print journals in the UK and further afield, most recently Vaster than Empires (an anthology about vegetables from Grey Hen Press, 2018) Multiverse (science fiction poetry from Shoreline of Infinity, 2018), and Noon (Solstice Shorts, Arachne, 2019), and journals including The Poets’ RepublicMarbleWords for the WildThe Curlew, and Firth. When not writing, she makes music with Intuitive Music Aberdeen and a number of choirs. Her first collection will be published later in 2019.

Aberdeen’s cold, wild and beautiful North Sea coast is a far cry from the golden dunes and blue surf of Mandy’s Australian childhood, and she has also lived and worked in Cuba and Central America. All these places, and others, find a place in her poetry. She is appalled by climate change,  but poetry, music, and gardening keep her sane.


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