Seamus Scanlon – My Galway German Girl

Seamus11

Seamus Scanlon is an associate professor and a Carnegie Corporation/New York Times awardwinning librarian at the City College of New York’s Center for Worker Education. He is a native of Galway, Ireland and a graduate of University College Galway, the University of West London, and the City College of New York. Recent achievements include a residency at the McDowell Artists Colony and an emerging writer fellowship from the Center for Fiction in New York. His latest theater project ‘Dancing at Lunacy’ ran during March 2012 at the cell theater in New York to enthusiastic reviews for example in the Huffington Post. The sequel ‘I Am Harm’ is nearing completion. His work has appeared in the Irish Times, the Sunday Tribune, Promethean, Journal of Experimental Fiction, Review of Post Graduate English Studies, Global City Review, Fish Publishing Anthologies, the Roanoke Review and Gemini Magazine.

My Galway German Girl

By Seamus Scanlon

In Galway I can’t forget.

I flee often. To Rahoon.

High above Galway City.

The limestone Burren across Galway Bay is shrouded. Rain squalls race towards me. The smell of sea air reaches up. More black clouds wait off shore. Deep-sea bound trawlers leave the docks, slowed by the heft of swells from the Atlantic.

I cry.

No-one sees it.

The rain hides it sure.

My sorrow lies low and cruel within me. Everlasting. A fine polished arc of pain through me.

I think about my German baby.

Dead long ago now. Cancer ate her up. Beauty and the beast.

Ate her up before me while I looked on.

While I looked away.

While I tried to soothe her in the Regional Hospital. Stretched out on stark white linen sheets. I snuck in at night while her mother dozed on a chair.

Victor don’t visit. It is wrong to be here.

She cried. I lay my hand on her skin, etched with a patina of pain and slick from fever. Blue white veins under her translucent skin mocked me.

I hated her.

I loved her.

Before me she was dying.

Sixteen only.

Fucking not fair.

She was fair.

Adored her sure I did.

Met her by accident in Galway City Library. I was reading Mein Kampf. I was a little Nazi neophyte. She walked up. She knocked the book from my hand. It skittered across the floor. Das is pure shoite (she had a mix of Galway and German accents and phraseology).

Read something real why don’t ya?

Like what I said.

Like me. Read me.

She stared into my eyes.

Read me she said pointing at herself. Me. Me.

Her bellicose invitation startled me – thrilled me.

Her harsh laugh echoed far in the City Library.

The circulation desk staff member looked up and scowled.

The female German blitzkrieg kicked my Mein Kampf under one of the stacks. I was afraid to retrieve it. Even though it was my personal copy.

Outside we walked down by Woodquay where swans nested all summer with their five signets. They drifted below the granite legs of the Galway to Clifden railroad bridge fighting the strong current. They sat like moored Spanish galleons once did in Galway docks centuries ago waiting for the wind to shift to carry them home.

She sat on one of the benches looking across at the university grounds. Rushes bent over with the strong breeze blowing down from Lough Corrib.

I am real but soon I won’t be. Kiss me.

She pointed at her lips. I did my best. She pulled back after a while. She cried. What’s wrong – did I do it wrong?

She lit a cigarette.

No – dying I am. Cancer. She pointed at her chest.

I jumped up. I knocked the cigarette out of her lips.

It’s too late!

She was right.

She is buried in Rahoon cemetery high above the city. She looks across the bay towards the Burren and the grey clouds heavy with rain that huddle off the coast until they eventually drift in over the town and cover the narrow grey streets with fog, mist and then rain.

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13 Responses to Seamus Scanlon – My Galway German Girl

  1. Seamus Scanlon’s new story in The Galway Review, “My Galway German
    Girl,” is tough, wistful and spellbinding.

    marcellethiebaux@hotmail.com
    http://www.MarcelleThiebaux.com

  2. I’m impressed. Ausgezeichnet.

  3. haunting & chilling, I love Seamus Scanlon’s style of writing, it leaves a taste in your mouth for more

  4. Mick Collier says:

    I am astonished by Scanlon’s juvenile style and threadbare conception.

    This has all the melodramatic hallmarks of the mid-teenage imagination. One which, in 2013, still conceives of a relationship with a German within the rigid framework of WWII, Hitler and the Nazis, as original or even remotely plausible?? A relationship within the framework of the fall of the Berlin Wall or Bader-Meinhof would have presented more interesting, if still vastly outdated, challenges. Current EU-wide tensions over financial matter also seem to suggest themselves but not to Mr Scanlon’s underburdened imagination.

    On top of this, his style is laced with the sort of errors that a poor editor would have no trouble spotting. Swans do not drift while ‘fighting the strong current’ but they will certainly drift if they don’t.

    Rain frequently falls on the streets of Galway but the same streets may go for years without experiencing fog or mist ( unless by mist, he actually means a fine drizzle ). Since, at the time of commenting, I can’t absolutely swear that it’s not possible to see the Burren from Rahoon, I’ll merely observe that the meteorological conditions described are, at best, an unlikely combination.

    Pain, especially bereavement, rarely manifests itself as ‘a fine polished arc’. As the late Elmore Leonard, used to say, ‘If it sounds like writing, rewrite it’. This sounds like the sort of ‘fine words’ the editor Mr Scanlon doesn’t have, would have advised him to kill.

    In other words, literary fiction this is not, though Mr Scanlon definitely aspires to write it.

  5. writerseamus says:

    Dear Ruth, Thanks very much. That means a lot from a Galway Girl like yourself. Best, Seamus

  6. Pingback: My Galway German Girl | writerseamus

  7. Hmmm… Well. Ahem.

    I’ll admit I’m a bit biased. However, as editor for Scanlon’s short story collection, As Close As You’ll Ever Be, I would be remiss for not commenting on Mr. Collier’s (ironically mid-teenage) critique of this brief, remarkable story.

    Art, being subjective, is not meant for everyone. Some people think the Mona Lisa sucks, or hate James Joyce, or have other embarrassing opinions. And some people take great pride in dismantling the work of others.

    Mr. Collier’s troll-ish response is just that. I find the idea of pain as “a fine polished arc” rather beautiful. Perhaps Mr. Collier could write something better. But here, it fits the protagonist’s voice perfectly (especially since the story is told in retrospect).

    The notion that the story would have been more interesting if it concerned “the fall of the Berlin Wall or Bader-Meinhof” is pure douchebaggery (look it up, Mr. Collier… your picture is there). This is Scanlon’s story, about these characters, in this circumstance.

    Threadbare? It’s flash fiction. Please, please show us what you can do, Mr. Collier. Write a story using as few words as Mr. Scanlon. We’ll see who has better skills.

    The silliness of swans drifting, and fog/mist/rain confusion, and whether or not it’s possible to see the Burren from Rahoon… what a bunch of shite. Laughable! Don’t you have something real to think about? I wonder how you would tear apart Van Gough for his misrepresentation of color, or his blatant disregard for spatial relationships. Jaysus.

    If forced to choose five writers to read the rest of my life, Scanlon would be one of them. Thank goodness he’s smart enough to (hopefully) laugh over Mr. Collier’s “stunning” analysis.

    • dublin4 says:

      My opinions about Seamus Scanlon’s story are sincerely held and were politely expressed though some may feel they were harshly put. They certainly weren’t troll-ish, though the language you’ve deployed, is the very epitome of troll-ishness – ‘douchebaggery,’ ‘shite’?

      I take no ‘pride in dismantling the work’ of any individual. But neither do I bow before the superficial fallacy this phrase implies: if I criticize then QED, I’m a hater, and if I’m not, then I have no right to criticize.

      The problem with your ‘defence’ of this story – aside from the fact that it is greatly weakened by your desire to attack me for my criticism of it – is that it doesn’t work very well as a defence. I’m quite certain there are stories and novels which you regard as poorly written and/or ill conceived – if there weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to edit. ( And for the record, I have no problem with the author’s right to employ the conception he uses, I simply find it threadbare.)

      Flash fiction does not impose (or imply) any limits on story conception. Therefore your remark “Threadbare? It’s flash fiction.” also appears to offer little by way of a defence.

      I would be very happy to write you a story, ‘using as few words as Mr Scanlon,’ were it not for some rather obvious obstacles, the first one being the need to point out that word count alone – whether high or low – is no guarantee of quality, as your stipulation implies. Another would be the difficulty in presenting you with a story you could judge objectively, under the circumstances. A third would be your actual ability to make such a judgement, given the coarse and in some cases contradictory nature of your posting in defence of Mr Scanlon.

      “If forced to choose five writers to read the rest of my life, Scanlon would be one of them.”

      Why does this remarkably confident ‘dust jacket’ claim remind me of ‘Carlsberg – Probably the best lager in the world’. Is it because we all know it means, ‘I think Seamus Scanlon is a good writer’? And not because it means ‘I really think Seamus Scanlon is up there with the all time greats of literature, including Shakespeare whom I’d probably drop, if I was only allowed pick four names’.

      To paraphrase Ed Byrne, if I look up ‘Douchebag’ in my dictionary, I won’t find my picture under that entry because ‘my dictionary hasn’t got pictures in it, moron.’ (Please excuse my vulgarity but it was necessary here, in order to highlight yours?)

      Finally, I’ve said all I have to say to you, as openly and honestly as I can, I don’t intend to get into a troll war over it. No matter how hard you try.

  8. Though he is entitled to his opinion, Mr Collier’s response goes a step downward and descends into the peevish. This is rather typical of the sort of “critical” response predictable from persons who do not like the author and for whom the work is merely a gateway through which this dislike can pass. Any writer worth his or her salt will face criticism; facing bile is another matter. Mr Scanlon’s style is not mine, nor, no doubt, mine his. Yet there is unquestionable value and merit in his writing and he is challenging and imaginative. This sort of negative rant is neither. Galway has become notorious over the years for the destructive “quality” of literary complaint; speaking as one who has had to suffer for years the slings of anonymous letters, circulated confidential correspondence and personal opposition from professional people who should know better, I believe Galway’s literary world more often shames itself than does itself credit. I was taken by Mr Scanlon’s work the first time I heard it, particularly by its courage and non-parochialism. Mr Collier is welcome to try to write something better. I doubt he can. There are writers falsely praised in Galway whose work beyond the city walls wouldn’t find publication in the most amateur productions. If Mr Collier wishes to throw around accusations of juvenalia or even poor editorship, I would be too happy to supply him with a list of names authors against whose work such accusations might more aptly be directed. Mr Scanlon is a good writer – get over it. FRED JOHNSTON

    • dublin4 says:

      I have never met the author and therefore can’t reasonably be accused of liking or disliking him. Nor have I ever read anything else written by him, before or since.

      In these Everyone-is-special-in-their-own-unique-way days we live in, criticism has come only to mean something approximating ‘malign, unjustified spite’. But it shouldn’t, and it didn’t always. Originally, criticism meant reasoned judgment or analysis. Every writer should face criticism and the best ones are their own greatest critics. The better the writer, the more likely they are to be unhappy with their own work and this is often what spurs them on to try again. To ‘fail better’?

      I criticised this story in that same spirit. Specifically because it employs the most threadbare, reductive national stereotype I can recall, after that other famous global cliché, the drunken

      • dublin4 says:

        Irishman. Get over myself? What exactly do I need to ‘get over’? Is it really such an outlandish accusation to make in 2013?

        I believe that it is obviously the case – to the point where it ought to be considered a valid indicator of the commentator’s IQ – that the appearance of such a cliché in fiction, is evidence of either a lazy imagination or, a devastating lack of imagination.

        I can’t answer for anyone’s experience of the literary world in Galway or beyond but as an Irishman, I have to say, it rings true, in the sense that it sounds exactly like life in general both in this city and beyond it.

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