Hennessy New Irish Writing: August 2017’s winning poems

Lichenology and Funeral by Majella Kelly

Majella Kelly

Majella Kelly



Lichen is an unnatural union between a captive algal damsel
and a tyrant fungal master
– Rev JAMES CROSBIE 1831-1906

Suppose a fox is sly, an owl
wise and a storm malevolent.
Then suppose lichen is a sensational
relationship between an algal
damsel and a tyrant fungal master.

Precisely how lichen is formed
is a mystery but suppose
the fungus lured the algae to him
brimful of promise for a life
of bountiful moisture (the fungus

equivalent of rich, handsome
and a little bit audacious).
Suppose he is holding her
captive somehow, exploiting her
vulnerability so he can use her

unique tools for photosynthesis.
Suppose he made her read
all three volumes of Fifty Shades
of Grey
in a weekend
and she liked it, in spite of herself.

And suppose she watches other
algal damsels going to work
on the bus or the train in Dublin,
London, New York or Paris
and asks what it is they are

reading behind the winter issue
of Poetry Review or The Wall Street
, biting their lips
and insisting that the prose
is atrocious and there’s nothing

in their lives that is missing.
Or suppose their symbiosis
is something other than conflict.
They seem at ease with each other.
Suppose they’re onto something.

Suppose he didn’t enslave her
and make her take his name,
that she cooperates willingly.
Suppose theirs is a clever survival
strategy, a equally beneficial

partnership with clearly defined roles.
Suppose she likes that he is bigger
physically so she can feel safe
in his embrace, the way he weaves
his filaments tightly about her

and sees to it that she gets the right
amount of light and water.
Suppose she goes about the making
of food gladly because when she’s wet
she’s turned on and it’s then

they glow and grow as one.
Suppose lichen is happy.
Suppose happiness is a flourish of paris-
pistachio- and jungle-green
on the low branches of a willow

by the river after rain
the way there is nothing
more melancholy than bubble-gum
and hot-magenta cherry blossoms
on an April wind.


What I remember of the day is white.
White as the keening of the windscreen

wipers under the blizzard at Seaham.
White as the taste of a snowflake fallen

through salty air. White as teardrops
of wave-soothed sea-glass. White as a plume

of your bones made ash, fluent on the cold
air as a gannet, which is the same colour

as a white flag. White as the noise the telly
makes at night when she falls asleep again

in your chair. White as the dream she still has
of the Limerick lace she sewed into the dress

she wore on your wedding day. White as the space
in your mind her name had long since fallen through.

  • Majella Kelly is from Tuam, Co Galway. 2017 has been good to her. She has a poem in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2017 and the Best New British & Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear). Also, she came third in the Resurgence Poetry Prize, was nominated by Crannóg for a Pushcart Prize and selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2017. Find out more at majellakelly.com