Flamingos, by Kerrie O’Brien

Flamingos, Hemingway and Bud are August’s Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poems

Hennessy New Irish Writing: Kerrie O’Brien’s debut collection of poetry, Illuminate, is due to be published by Salmon Poetry in October


The name comes from fire
Legs thin as cherry stems
Wade and paddle
In white lake crust
Guarding their lithium salts
Power source
Where water and heaven
Are mirrored
Pink contortionists
Feathers dark
Beneath each wing
Dip and shimmer
Stained red
By their fish meats
Rose flickers
Against horizon
Crimson on gold
Like Burmese monks
Bald headed
Clothed in orange
Bodies arched to sky
Saluting the dawn
In ruffled flamboyance.


One of the days it was too cold
To do anything but sit
And read in Shakespeare & Co.
The air thick with spirit
All the great dead visiting
Their warm hum.
I was learning of his time in Paris
When he was my age
The fires, snow, hunger, love
He was talking of the winds
At the river
How they would cut you
In gusts if you walked home
By the bridges
Better to slowly climb
The back streets
Huddle low
Against the walls
Walk in the quiet.
I knew where he meant
Felt it like a slap – 
As if he was saying
Come, now, look alive
We walked the same paths
How could he be so close
And I not know it – 
Then lights out
Powercut, blackout
In the dark holding his words
Everything aligned
The worst time to search
Too late, too cold, I hadn't eaten
The deep vicious hunger
Raw and persisting
In blizzard sleet
And lamplight pink
He led me
And right where he lived –
A cafe
Rose star in the wilderness
Warm jewel
Run by an American woman
Big hearted
Who talked and gave me a muffin
Flooded with raspberry
Bloodsweet, glittering, hot.
It then came
A thudding chant
Be still, still in the howling
Have faith
Just a little longer.


I think you need to be empty to fall in love
To have been pure in yourself for long enough
to know who you are again
there needs to have been a winter
where you were bare and elegant as an orchid
moving towards the light but in no rush
holding your grief well
not waiting, expecting
but quietly knowing
there will be layers of new
flowering softness
you will tremble with life
the buds will split open
again and again

Kerrie O' Brien has been published in Cyphers, the Stinging Fly, Banshee Lit and Southword, among other journals. She was shortlisted for the Penny Dreadful Novella Prize 2015 and is working on her first novel. Her debut collection of poetry, Illuminate, made possible by a literature bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland, is due to be published by Salmon Poetry in October