“Word Skin” and other poems by Órla Fay

The Fish

after Elizabeth Bishop

Fragile as a rainbow,
silvery, iridescent she cannot be caught.
Some say she is the mother of the salmon run
and some say she goes with them
only to remember,
afraid that one day she could forget
the stream of consciousness she came from.
It’s not enough to say that she got lost
or that she found herself lost
and yet she did find herself when she was lost,
out in the wilderness of the vast ocean
panicked and spluttering in the shock of its depth
(this the same woman who had walked along the pier
daring the engorged waves to sweep her away.
My God, I had thought remembering the vision
of The French Lieutenant’s Woman)
Stunned by the wideness of the world
she stayed in it for years, alabaster in the moonlight,
perfectly still in the starlight,
unnoticed with briny, lifeless eyes.
About her whale song and in the distance dancing light –
the beauty drove her almost mad eventually,
cracked, hatching from herself.
From birth she had strayed from an essential part,
some missing connection, a clawing sense of loss,
hungering for the elements,
bouncing from one broken bank to another.
Who could hold or feed such a creature?
The pearl in the mollusc could not sustain her
and certainly not I, thought offering my innards.
Now that she has swallowed herself
from meeting herself on the journey back
she does not thrash and flail on the line.
It would do me no good to keep her.
I had too late known that she should swim
between the sun and rain in the spray of a dream
keeping her skin.

Word Skin

They have seeped into me
invisible dyes that will never leave.
Washing in the river they are the river;
the bank, the froth, the rock, the pebble,
the reeds, the gurgle, the swish, the fish,
the cormorant, the heron,
the roc – a passage of Sartre on the rapids,
Goethe’s sorrow in driftwood,
the protracted silence between gongs of the bell.

I saw an otter sluiced in water
sleek as a seal silky with sunlight
diving and twisting as an eel
and he had the same skin.
Searching in the darkness, the submarine,
knowledge is an impression
a cloud-like fog clearing, a day-dream,
a knowing without knowing how or why
an instinctive mastery.


Who said that the stars are so far away?

Portmarnock, Dublin, January ‘16
Who said that the stars are so far away
when their shadow is caught on the wet sand
now star fish have washed ashore from the bay?
Do you remember the strand that lost day?
Wind rose from the beach like the desert’s hand?
Who said that the stars are so far away?
Ships trawling home will make certain gangway
where spray-venting waves hissing crash-land
as star fish are washed ashore from the bay.
How much does the anchored iron sea weigh
that holds to ransom horizon’s bright end?
Who said that the stars are so far away?
Behind clouds is there beauty to convey
when Shambhala is within the heart found
now star fish have washed ashore from the bay?
Their flicker in the darkness drowns dismay
though their music so solar makes no sound.
Who said that the stars are so far away
now starfish have washed ashore from the bay?

Venus de Milo

Racing through the Louvre
I am not as impressed
with the Mona Lisa
and her knowing smile
but fly past goddesses,
borrowing wings
from the Victory at Samothrace,
Theseus in the labyrinth
Denon to Sully
and find her
armless, surviving,
admire her,
stand in sorority,
letting her know I love her.

She saw Venus

She saw Venus undressed,
her skin pale as the dawn,
her breasts swollen as the moon.
Her heart the morning star Inanna-Ishtar,
the Greek Aphrodite and Roman goddess,
Catholic, shining Queen of Heaven!
Today she looks for love and sees
cherry blossoms, perfectly pink
pencilled like hearts on trees.
Evening star too, forlorn in the garden
she steps from Botticelli’s shell born
from angel’s breath to the loveliness of woman.


Windswept birds, windswept wings,
windswept trees, windswept grass,
windswept moon,
halved –
windswept hair, windswept breeze,
whistling, shaking nests.
Windswept hands of the clock.
Windswept voiceless being,
being without form, windswept,
painting the world with thoughts,
making the world

Word Skin and other poems are © Órla Fay


Órla Fay is the editor of Boyne Berries Magazine. Recently her work has appeared in Amaryllis, A New Ulster, Boyne Berries, The Honest Ulsterman, The Rose Magazine, Stepaway Magazine, Clear Poetry, Sixteen Magazine, Lagan Online, The Ogham Stone and is forthcoming in Cyphers Magazine. Her poetry was long listed in The Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award 2017, The Anthony Cronin International Poetry Award 2017, The Fish Poetry Prize 2017 and short listed in The Rush Poetry Competition, The Dermot Healy International Poetry Award 2017 and The Red Line Book Festival Poetry Award 2017. She is currently studying the MA in Digital Arts and Humanities at UCC.

Orla’s website