“Nadelah” and other poems by Geraldine O’Kane

Hitting to Hurt

(after ‘The Leaping Lamb’)
Everybody saw us as the bull
and the lamb, that is how I hid for so long.
He was a chunk of a man; I sliced him
to bits with my words, buried him with shame.
I am sorry for using such callous language,
I’ll try to rein myself in; let’s start again.
The first time my hands rose, it felt
like they belonged to someone else;
afterwards I wished so hard that they did.
It’s not like it happened everyday
but the second and third time I knew
the fists were mine and I kept on using them.
He stood there as I threatened to leave him
if he didn’t fight back or if he did I’d go anyway;
soon I was saving all my energy and hitting to hurt.
Once I drew blood and no longer saw him
as either bull, husband or human being;
it was then I knew I needed help.
Commissioned by Artist Brian Kielt for an Exhibition in aid of StART Talking a local mental health charity.


(meaning one who has been transformed)
Pre-boundaries and pre-colonisation, I was Nadelah to my Native American tribe, a sacred gift, a two spirited, third gender, in continuous state of transformation. Born raw, I existed ungendered until the ceremony of the basket and the bow, where my choice let me live revered not feared. Pre-boundaries and pre-colonisation, I transcended the masculine and feminine, to see in both directions. I was a conduit to the spirit world, I lived a life of community, unaware of my sexuality, until the white man straightened the circle I inhabited. Renamed me Berdache – but I tell you I was slave, sexual or otherwise to no one.
Biligaana must show himself
a liar or conceive –
I am his single spectre.
Berdache (Boy kept as sexual slave)
Biligaana (Navajo for White Man)

The Living Room

My grandmother’s kitchen was a tea cosy,
knowledge and love brewed there in equal measure.
Everyone reached full flavour inside that room –
with the softest unsliced bread in Ardboe
and the sweetest bananas.
The cake mixer was always whipping up something
to go with the tin kettle permanently on the boil.
If you were lucky you would hit on licking-time;
buttercream from the bowl is best! Days clinked
to a start, and ended with spoons stirring hot milk
and bread for her cats. She smoked twenty a day
in that room with hardly a window open and
forever smelt of Yardley – Lily of the Valley.
Evenings rendered the kitchen silent
as everyone poured into the living room.


We were playing hide and seek round our estate,
when he grabbed my wrist.
Much older than the other kids
he would know all the good places, so we ran.
He took me to the best spot,
“scream”, he said,
“no one will hear you.”


He used to greet her with a noose,
Wait for her to ‘talk him down’.
Until the sight had her turning on her heel,
voice squeezing through the closing
front door, “do it, see if I care”,
unsure she believed.

Doorman at ‘Invisible Illness’

Falling out of sleep into feeling
all belonging to me is dead,
yet you are there right beside me;
my dad calls it his black days,
mum calls it the days her head
is not in this world.

In my teens this didn’t register
now I know the fight too well;
days when I am quiet,
methodical to rise and shower,
dress, make myself up before breakfasting
but always a hug and a kiss –
wishing you a beautiful day,
before I head out to work,
you keep the wounds from my door.

Tree Tunnel

We walked mid-road under the tunnel of trees
huge trunks branched above us
their leaves feathery boas floating
from about their necks, sheltered us for a moment
– only a moment
In a split second through the arc of recess
where the sun had warmed to our skin
came sheeting rain; energetic beads
with bellies full readily dropping their payload.
We did not twist with arms flung wide,
in circles with heads thrown back,
catching rain with our open mouths.
After twenty minutes and two car passing’s,
we were drenched chills crept over our bodies.
We stopped sought sanctuary along the verge
you mimicking the tree trunks
providing as much shelter as your frame would allow,
curling in on me, latent, against your chest,
chin resting on my porous hair,
elemental I attuned to the call –
of your heartrate, your skin…
when a car pulled over
sweeping us away
from the summer downpour.
‘Nadelah’ and other poems © Geraldine O’Kane.


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