Poems from ‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Nessa O’Mahony

Waiting Room

The rules for survival:
don’t catch an eye
on the first day,
look away
if their blank grief
grazes over you.
If still here the next,
permit a faint smile,
a nod to a fellow traveller.
But keep your space,
don’t approach
unless invited
and only then
with care.
Avoid those
with a story to tell,
a need to eat you alive
as they rave
about hands squeezed,
the twitch of a closed eye.
You can’t spare
a shred, a prayer;
it’s dog eat dog here.
The odds are too high,
if somebody has to die,
let the noose swing

Deserted Village, Achill Island

in memory of my father
A gap between showers,
blue filtering half-light,
so we take our chances
on the slopes of Slievemore.
Those who’d called it home
knew about impermanence,
the reach of bog,
the gaping sockets of roofs.
Hap-hazarding lazy beds,
slip-slides of water
pouring down
the side of the mountain,
we settle for the track,
the safety of shale and quartz.
Sun wets white shards,
crystal lures us
as the track forks
to where a burnt-out digger
acts sentinel over oil slicks;
wind chimes music:
a plastic bottle
trapped by bog-lethe.
The quarry opens out,
slag-heaps improbably white,
as if someone had cleared snow
into neat piles,
or had scattered detergent
like there was no need tomorrow,
no white sheets to be spread out,
no single rose bud to be left
beside a hospital bed.

Notes for an exhibit

Spotfin Porcupine Fish, Cuba 1991,
D.J. O’Mahony, MI31.1992
It catches the eye:
half globe, half water-mine,
outrage suspended
in display case 781 Vertebrata Pisces
on the first floor landing.
When threatened, it doubles in size,
swallows air and water, bristles spines,
sends neurotoxins till each tip sizzles
with venom more potent than cyanide.
Still netted all the same,
(there is no armour against fate)
transformed to artefact,
presented in great state
to one who’d done some service.
What else need we know?
That it spent a year
atop a china cabinet,
caught dust, snagged cloth?
That it was the extra guest
at many a family party?
That, seeing it encased,
a grandson made an excited phone-call?
A six-inch black-type card
acknowledges the donor
of whom little is known;
his dates are found elsewhere.

Madam Butterfly at Beaumaris

Tonight I observe the old rituals,
run a warm bath, descend,
soak, sponge, massage each limb,
let the heat enter me.
After, I’m gentle when I rub myself down,
anoint with oil of cocoa butter,
finger-tip smooth cream in elbow folds,
around each breast, caress
the waist sloping to buttock rise.
I go to the window seat,
kimono loose-wrapped, hair unpinned.
All is readiness; Callas sings,
a red buoy light flashes my intentions to the Straits.
I wait for tomorrow
when you said you’d come.


Your first shot,
me framed in the door
of my grandmother’s house
in Garbally.
Our first stay,
and it feels strange when
I’m trusted with the key,
with instructions
on how to keep the fire lit.
You mention
Granny’s house
and it sounds alien
on your lips;
she was dead years
before I met you.
But she always predicted
the old sock would find
the old shoe

Role reversal

after Eavan Boland
There will come a time, mother,
when the transformed spring opens up
and the charioteer holds out a hand;
he might have my father’s face, might not;
his gestures might be gentle or rough
as he eases you into a space made ready
and shows you the pomegranate.
And you will take the seed and eat,
willingly perhaps, not caring
that every bargain has its cost,
or will your hand be stayed
by the sun’s ray on your face?
I will not have time to catch up,
to forestall the nine long days,
the nine long nights of wandering.
And I’ll have no deal to strike;
no backward glance, no waiting
for the seasons to turn back to me.
These poems are © Nessa O’Mahony from Her Father’s Daughter  (Salmon Poetry)

NessaNessa O’Mahony was born in Dublin and lives in Rathfarnham where she works as a freelance teacher and writer. She won the National Women’s Poetry Competition in 1997 and was shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Prize and Hennessy Literature Awards. She was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland literature bursary in 2004 and 2011. She has published four books of poetry – Bar Talk, appeared (1999), Trapping a Ghost (2005) and In Sight of Home (2009). Her Father’s Daughter was published by Salmon in September 2014. She completed a PhD in Creative Writing in 2006 and teaches creative writing for the Open University. She is a regular course facilitator at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin.

5 responses to “Poems from ‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Nessa O’Mahony”

  1. Thanks for posting. I liked “Waiting Room” the best of all. The line beware of those with a story to tell spoke to me. I might be that someone with a story to tell? I hope not though.

    I enjoyed “Madam Butterfly at Beaumaris” as well. It’s almost a short story. But, yeah very poetic.

    All the poems seem to capture a moment well. Thanks again…


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