Poems by Nessa O’Mahony
The King of Britain’s Daughter*
We have reversed that old tale.
In ours, the Irish girl returns
with the son of Britain,
makes a new home out of old bolt-holes,
keeps an eye, when she remembers to,
that his quiet ways don’t shelter sadness,
that he doesn’t take to watching sky
for starlings from home.
We’ve faced the rage of the Irish Sea,
walked the welcoming warmth of city walls
built on sandstone,
buried parents on either side of the pond.
Returning each time, she convinced
that her love of Wicklow hills
would tether them both.
We each walk this strand,
beach-comb, pick up messages
we encode for each other.
Does it matter what bird says your name,
or which coast it flies from?
*Branwen, daughter of the King Lyr of Britain, married Matholwmch, King of Ireland and much trouble ensued. In her lonely captivity, she trained a pet starling to say her name.
If Homer came to Iveragh …
She would go up the hill at Bolus,
pass the gape of ruined cottages,
tip the wink to fellow travellers
labouring in each artist’s cell.
She’d doff a cap to Séan Ó Conaill’s shade
leaning sunrise-side of the Teach Seanachái,
reciting Archbishop MacHale’s tale of Troy.
She’d climb further,
watch the sea, not wine-dark today,
but quick-silver, glinting cloud-clefts;
she would observe the stones in the fields
assembling themselves into pattern.
She’d stop here, ford the fence,
gaze on simple slate, cross-inscribed,
guarding the collapsed Oratory.
She’d remember that prayer starts
in the same place as story:
where the mind stills long enough
to hear sea crash on rock,
to learn each note of the chough’s cough,
how they banter on fence-staves.
She’d watch the young farmer herd,
his lips moving to learn the words
of a tale he’d heard somewhere,
spreading his hands out in emphasis
as his captive audience chews.
And she would know that story starts
where each knot of barbed wired
links phrase to phrase,
sequence to sequence, chair to chair
of the listeners circled in rooms, round fires,
gazing at the face of the teller,
watching her words shape, her phrases
transform the girl with the capán draíocht
as she makes her way home to the Aegean.
Cill Rialaig 25th October 2016
Nessa O’Mahony is a Dublin-born poet. She has published four books of poetry – Bar Talk, appeared (1999), Trapping a Ghost (2005), In Sight of Home (2009) and Her Father’s Daughter (2014). Novelist Joseph O’Connor described In Sight of Home as ‘a moving, powerful and richly pleasurable read, audaciously imagined and achieved’ whilst poet Tess Gallagher said of Her Father’s Daughter that ‘words are her witching sticks and she employs them with beautiful, engaging intent, the better to make present what has preceded and what approaches.’