Manganese Tears, Tim O’Leary
Poetry Salzburg, 2018 £4.00
The uneasy reality of relationships
Manganese is an essential element. By joining this mineral to human tears in the title, the poet makes clear that sorrow is a necessary expression of what it is to be human.
This controlled collection explores grief and the complexity of human relationships. It seems that these relationships are very personal, but whether autobiographical or not, the work resonates with deep, often difficult emotions.
The first half of the pamphlet focuses on the decline and death of the narrator’s mother. There is no easy route to some misremembered idyll. Instead, the poet grapples with ambivalence over the role of carer. In ‘Home Visit’ he writes about ‘the draught of my arrival / after these ten years.’ How are we to view this woman, whom they hug as a ‘weathered bone pouch’?
In ‘Walking to the Bridge’, we see the harsh reality of her final stages:
as every moment withers
in this dumbing of her days.
And there are hints in ‘The Birthplace’ that hers was a life not fully lived: ‘the edge of your tone should’ve shown me / you had no inkling how you might’ve been treasured.’
There is tenderness, too, such as in ‘The Wakeless Earth’ which describes her burial:
I give you up to winter,
to snowflake and dew
However, this poem ends with ‘as promises kept to bow to you now — / my sorrow is no more for kin to claim.’ And so the reader is left with the speaker’s melancholic sense of duty, and his regret at having not enjoyed a happier rapport.
The second half of the pamphlet deals with other relationships, many taking place overseas, in Greece and Italy. The poet evokes a vivid sense of place with richly detailed descriptions, such as (in ‘Caveat’) ‘the sharp scent of goat-browsed wild rosemary’.
There are glimmers of quiet humour and gentleness, and so as a whole, I was left with a sense of a complete person rather than anyone two-dimensional. I welcomed this thoughtful exploration of problematic truth.