Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet; he teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Arlington. His books include (Un)belonging, BLUE, Preparations for Departure, Distance and Symptoms of Homesickness. His poetry has appeared in publications from fourteen countries, including Antipodes, Anthropocene, Cordite, Headstuff, Mascara, Skylight 47, Strukturriss and Westerly.
will you ever leave me alone? Will you refrain
from sliding into my bed at four in the morning
when you find me lying awake after releasing
the dog? Will you stop pursuing me, embracing
me with your brown Yarra arms and narrow Liffey legs?
Why do you insist on waking me with memories
of past geographies, decomposing relationships,
the deeds of youth? Do you think I might forget
the brilliant blues, the amber glow, the snug fug
of cosy belonging? I’m not sure I need you
anymore. Perhaps I’ve reached the farther shore,
survived the breaking surf, dragged my exhausted self
from the undertow, staggered onto a new continent.
We arrived in Cavan by bus
from Carrickmacross, walked
from the Bus Eireann station
to Sweelan Lough, pitched our burgundy
tent beneath the trees behind
the green hedges beside the cool
water, walked back into the town
centre along Kilnavarragh
Road, Wolfe Tone and Bridge streets, withdrew
punts from Ulster Bank, walked up the town past
the Church of Ireland to the Cathedral
of Saints Patrick and Felim, knelt
in a wooden pew, whispered prayers
and lit candles for my Bréifne
ancestors, strolled hand in hand back down
Church and Main, settled in for a long slow
evening in Percy’s Bar at the Farnham
Arms, sipped Guinness, feasted on chips,
soup, soda bread, potatoes and salmon,
sang folk songs with newfound friends,
warmed ourselves in the welcome home,
sank into the comfort of dark wood,
scarlet ceilings and soft golden lamps,
stumbled out the door at closing time
with arms around each other’s shoulders,
wove our way back to the tent, kicked
off boots, stripped off clothes, wriggled naked
into sleeping bags zipped together.
I live nine thousand, one hundred and four
miles, or fourteen thousand, six hundred
and fifty-one kilometres away
from my birthplace – I also live
in the present, forty-seven years
and seven months from the moment
of my birth in a country town
crouched above the Southern Ocean,
three thousand miles north of Antarctica.
Twenty-two years and twelve days after
I entered the world with blue eyes
and white hair, received the nickname
Murph the Surf from the nurses, twenty-two
years and twelve days after the local
radio station announced my birth
and played Bowie’s Space Oddity
in my honour, I left my homeland,
lifted off and crossed the sea alone
with one black suitcase full of books
and CDs, another full of clothes.
I carried my possessions with two hands
like my ancestors boarding ships
in Ireland, England, Wales and Portugal,
launched into a distant hemisphere.
I hurtled across time and space, landed
in a new station far above my past.
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