Olga Dermott-Bond

Nettles
A story of Oonagh Cumhail

 

.       i.    Fionn courts Oonagh
.             Harebell

The first time he came to see her after work
it had rained a misery of tales all day,
her mother’s kitchen shrunk, shrivelled at the thought
.                                                                                of a visitor

his shoulders sleeping boats anchored deep beneath
an old raincoat, scarcely covering shyness
that she wanted to undress, mind skittering
.                                                         like a leveret –

her book-learning left far from this equation,
cleverness something she was used to hiding,
conjugating verbs a witch’s trick she could
.                                            perform in her sleep.

Daylight chased far from the buckling doorway
she stood as sudden moonlight, wondering if
he would sweep all the plates of the table, lift
.                                               it with one vast hand –

instead he took harebells from his pocket,
purple-slight flowers, brimming with wet-hedge smell,
held them outstretched, their modest heads trembling wild,
.                                                                             a beautiful storm.

 

.      ii.    Oonagh remembers her wedding day
.             White Sea Campion

.             She had to be sewn into her wedding dress.
.             The worry. The wait. A little too thin to be pretty.

.             She didn’t think of it at the time, had laughed
.             when Fionn hadn’t been able to find a knife

.             to loosen her mother’s work and had gnawed
.             at the thread with his teeth, then ripped hungry cloth

.             with his impatient hands.
.                                                           Now mornings won’t unloosen
.             the pucker in her forehead that is stitched up too

.             tight. At school she hated cross-stitch, while the boys
.             built planes, two straight lines make a tight-lipped kiss.

.             The mirror blooms with bruises, her eyes are lakes
.             that need to be dredged for her own body.
.                                                                                         When he touches her,

.             she can think only of Newton’s theories of simultaneity,
.             but equations turn into fish, silver bodies tarnished

.             behind her eyelids, under the sheets, between her legs.

 

.     iii.    Oonagh tricks her husband’s rival by gathering rocks
.              Nettle

the morning is ruined, and she writing an essay of her anger into the dust / he had promised her the time before this that it would never happen again/ she searches along the dirt for a stone sharp enough, feels the pressure gathering under her nails/ picked a fight he couldn’t win and then came weeping, suddenly sober, the door lintel swaying behind him like a great bird/ clouds rise like nettle rash and she realises she needs to get home, set her trap of ferocious kindness/ his words turn into ugly welts every time. she stumbles back, awkward with rocks, arms wincing with their weight/ oonagh, help me, he had pleaded, make this go away/ she is going to make her husband disappear, have afternoon tea with the man who comes to kill him/ he had promised her the time before this. she practises a smile innocent as a docken leaf, hears the crunch of benandonner’s breaking teeth, the certainty of pain/ he had promised/ why are all the things she has to love so difficult to carry?

 

.     iv.    Oonagh dresses her husband up as baby to fool the Scottish Giant
.              Gorse

just like she told him, he has crawled into the cot
muscles and arms bulging between wooden slats
now straining, bent to a boat, the whole room
swimming with dust motes. She doesn’t look at Fionn’s

face, stubble like gorse tearing against the sheets pulled
tight, seams like crooked teeth. The first time she has been
in the nursery since – she pushes away the picture of the fledging
she found the day before face down, outside the kitchen door,

a damp curve, feathers folded fast, no bigger
than a leaf, beak bright yellow at the end of its matted
body. It didn’t look like itself. she shudders at the memory
of its cold wetness, its lightness in the palm of her hand.

 

.      v.    Oonagh watches Benandonner flee, destroying the causeway in his wake
.              Grass of Parnassus

Any marriage is an island: this one is surrounded
by more ocean than before. As Benandonner left
he pulled up the causeway, crumpling land like paper.

Spendthrift kittiwakes have saved their songs for her,
cries like ink-spill as she counts the stones, naked
as chill-wind, granite bodies perfect as honeycomb.

She steps down to her slivered edge, thinks of these men
who change the shape of the world, pull up the past,
seize mountains, hurl rooted earth far out to sea.

It is the rest who live in the hollowed out spaces
of their footfall, so vibrations of far-off earthquakes
make tea cups clatter on the side board, wake babies,

make cracks appear across bedroom ceilings. She spies
some Grass of Parnassus. Pick it at your peril. A whale
of water moans below, ready to swallow her whole.

Oonagh steps out into nothing, her body flown, rewritten.

 

Olga Dermott-Bond is a former Warwick Poet Laureate and was part of Room 204 writer development scheme in the West Midlands. She has been commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize, shortlisted for the Poetry School Primers and was runner up in the BBC Proms Poetry Competition. Olga is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021, and her work has been published in Magma, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears and Candlestick Press’s Ten Poems about Breakfast.