Ghost of the Fisher Cat by Afric McGlinchey
– Reviewed by Grant Tarbard –
Galway-born Afric McGlinchey has been far and wide and I can smell the adventure in Ghost of the Fisher Cat. She grew up in Zambia, Limerick, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and lived briefly in London, Paris and Spain before returning to Ireland in 1999. Paris is very much the focus of this book: McGlinchey uses her own memories and expertly stitches them into the Parisian urban myth of The Street of the Fishing Cat.
La Rue du Chat qui Pêche is still the narrowest street in Paris. More than an oddly-named street, it is also the scene of a grim, centuries-old legend.The story goes that in the 15th century a certain Dom Perlet, a canon engaged in alchemy, lived on this very street, accompanied by his smart hyacinth black cat. A particularly gifted fisher, catching fish with one swipe of its mighty paw, the cat went prowling by the river quite often by itself. Convinced that both the alchemist and the black cat were the impersonation of the Devil, three local students agreed to kill the unfortunate mouser and throw it into the Seine. Curiously, once the cat died, the alchemist disappeared… only to reappear again a bit later, like a traveller coming back from a lengthy trip. As for the cat, it continued fishing peacefully by the banks of the river …
A fantastic story, I can see why the poet gravitated towards this grim tale. But McGlinchey doesn’t dwell in the sunken pit, she integrates light with the dark seamlessly. It’s all in the same universe of flooding starlight, loss is bound up with love, and wonder entwined with tragedy. She weaves the wool of her poems out of her outpouring spirit, like an old Country song, haggard, barely able to stand, but beautiful to the core and exact, almost otherworldly, hitting right in the solar plexus.
The collection is split into five distinct parts; Familiar, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, Leavings, Cold Air Awakening and Particle of Light Through a Raindrop. ‘Cat Music’ is like a concerto for violin, deep, sensuous:
A drownling cat is lifted
from a rain barrel,
dark as a slick of oil,
stripped with a blade,
from fat and manure,
in alkaline water
I can hear the gulp of water from the rain barrel, feel the slopping fur dripping on the paving stones. This solemnity is sustained through veiled poems, wafting soft dark lines like a black cherry, such as in ‘Night’s Three Faces’:
Cats compose the dark, wrapped
in the weight of night devilment.
They chew on a tale of a quay of flames,
fire-sister, mutable skies.
There is violence too, in the camber
of voices around the weight of indiscretions.
Cars reverse like a tongue.
A snake cloud. So much to hide.
Every night, the kingdom comes.
Cars reverse like tongues – a remarkable image that puts to mind 1930s and ’40s Max Fleischer cartoons. The poem ‘Fête des Trépassés’, perhaps my favourite, is a dark love song with a hint of Prufrock;
And now, my Héloīse?’ he asks, and she responds,
‘Men called me chaste. What a hungry hypocrite
I was. Come Pierre, unknot me!
And like Prufrock it’s a strange love song, this time between the ghosts of two families, drowned in bags, drifting to the surface and skimming across the Parisian lovers’ bridges. That’s followed by ‘A River of Familiars’, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a George Szirtes collection. You have to tap the lines like an egg to reveal their concealed beauty. The poem is formed of fourteen couplets that sigh and resolve within themselves.
I have a penchant for jumping trains, inhaling
with each knock. I have a sister cat who inhales too.
There’s a substance to McGlinchey’s stanza breaks, delicate, deliberate, her lines end in a definite. There is also a transcendental presence in her work – is she a visionary like Blake? A brume of tones fills her poetry, her voice is vibrant, clear and full, conjuring an uncanny revenant. This is a full, lively, introspective and supernatural collection from a pure, wayfarer’s voice.