Nathanael O’Reilly – Rainwater

O Reilly LE P&W August 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023

Rainwater, poems by Nathanael O’Reilly.


Rain falls flooding the backyard.
The pond overflows.
Drops drip from the trumpet vine.

The circular paved dining
area an inch-
deep pool, the overgrown lawn

yearns for the lawnmower’s blade.
Peach trees bend towards
the earth. Drops bead upon strings

of outdoor party lights. Steam
rises from beneath
the edges of the hot tub

cover. The wheelbarrow fills
to its rusty brim.
Rainwater glazes the grill.

Villiers Street

A one-storey house with baby-blue
aluminium siding and a red-
dirt corrugated iron roof occupies
a double block on the town’s northern edge.

A white exercise bike basks in the front
porch sunroom beside the master bedroom
housing two single beds. Venetian blinds
block sunlight from the lounge room. French doors slide

open onto a concrete back porch. One
carpeted step leads down from the kitchen
to Nana’s consultation room where she
cuts and files toenails, treats afflictions, gives

expert advice, listens to elderly
patients share the town’s gossip. Blue leather
couches and armchairs furnish the lounge room.
Folding metal TV trays lean against

wallpapered walls. Nana’s wooden writing
desk protects letters and records beneath
a rolling lid. Cassettes, VHS tapes
and Yeats rest on shelves next to Pa’s armchair.

In the backyard a narrow concrete
path leads to the rotary clothesline
from the backdoor. Mulberries, nectarines
and peaches ripen in the orchard.

In the double-garage built from Besser
bricks by father and son shelves and rafters
hold fishing rods, spearguns, wetsuits, surfboards,
snorkels, masks, ladders, trowels, spirit
levels, saws, spades, shovels, picks and rakes.

Grandkids creep quietly out the backdoor
at dawn, lift surfboards from the garage rafters,
stuff wetsuits and towels inside covers,
grasp boards under left arms, hold handlebars
with right hands, pedal stealthily down
the driveway towards the beach and waiting surf.

Grandkids wash sand and salt from their feet
at the outdoor tap, rinse wetsuits with the hose,
eat boiled cabbage, carrots, potatoes
and lamb chops for dinner, bowls of fruit served

with Neapolitan ice cream in blue
and white bowls for dessert, recline in leather
armchairs with feet propped on ottomans,
watch ABC news with Pa. Hours later,

young bodies crawl into single beds
made tightly with yellow and white striped sheets
beneath a sorrowful bleeding Jesus
crucified on the dark wood-panelled wall.

Returning Homewards    

After Homer
Father, you are his son. Look, wonder, perfect display.
I used wits and watchfulness, devised sad homecomings.
Not wise or righteous. Evil doom. Deadly anger. Is she not
the child of a mighty father set at odds? Son rash, unconsidered
made sunset. People came heavy with wine, reason assembling
men. Bade them returning home over the sea’s broad back.
Fell foul, wished to keep all sacred, appease heavy anger. Fool.
Goddess, the purpose is not to be lightly turned aside. High word
passed between, leapt from seats in monstrous uproar, divided
night, brooding mischief against each other, devising grief.
Morning came, began to haul down the sea. Half of the people
held back, half of us went aboard, began our voyage. The ships
sailed fast, smoothed the sea. Underworld waters called, longing
to be home, but return so soon was not the design. They fell
in with wishes homewards. Join us, ponder the long sea-journey,
sail north and close, keeping that island on our left. Asking
for some sign, a mid-ocean passage to escape disaster, a fair wind,
our vessels raced the teeming sea-paths during the night, reached
harbor, passed that great stretch of sea, moored ships off the coast.
Such was my own return, dear child. I heard no news upon the way.
I know nothing of the others, which among them returned safe
home, which among them perished. True, I have heard certain
things from my own house. I will tell you now. I will hide nothing.
Home safe with glorious child, the far-famed son, he too came safe.

The sea, the son, far away though your home may be. Death paid
a heavy price. I fear for my father, for me. I have no choice but to bear
what comes. Who knows if he will not return himself to befriend
you, care for you. Even now I dare not think it is too hard, beyond
my grasp, past hoping for. Word passed your lips – bring a man safe
home, no matter from how far away. I for my part would gladly pass
through a sea of troubles and then return to my country,
see the day of homecoming rather than reach my country early,
my own hearth. True enough, death comes to all, even love.
Grim doom of distressful death. Care deep, speak truth
before death. Seek knowledge, homecoming.

NB: All text taken from Walter Shewring’s translation of The Odyssey, then erased and remixed.

© Nathanael O’Reilly

Irish-Australian poet Nathanael O’Reilly teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Arlington. His ten collections include Selected Poems of Ned Kelly (Beir Bua Press, 2023), Dear Nostalgia (above/ground press, 2023), Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021), (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020), BLUE (above/ground press, 2020) and Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017). His work appears in over one hundred journals and anthologies published in fourteen countries, including Another Chicago Magazine, Anthropocene, Cordite, The Elevation Review, Identity Theory, New World Writing Quarterly, Trasna, Westerly and Wisconsin Review. He is poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.

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