Nathanael O’Reilly ~ Five Poems

Santa Maria Maggiore

Soldiers with machine guns stand guard out­side the Basilica,
check vis­i­tors’ bags for weapons. Pilgrims and tourists arch
necks back to gaze upon majes­tic ornate ceil­ings inlayed
with gold. Forty flut­ed mar­ble columns ges­ture towards
heav­en, twen­ty-six arched win­dows bathe the interior
with celes­tial light. Marble angels hold up gold-framed
oil paint­ings depict­ing scenes of beau­ty and fear, Mary
with Baby Jesus, Moses with the Ten Commandments,
Jesus stretched upon the cross. Feet shuf­fle across acres
of cool floor, white and grey mar­ble craft­ed in spi­rals, squares
and rec­tan­gles. Sandal soles slap gen­tly against bare heels.
Fourteen priests sit in booths hear­ing con­fes­sions in Italian,
French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Russian,
English, German and Slovak. Gated chapels occupy
the wings. Worshippers kneel and cross them­selves before a holy
rel­ic: wood from Jesus’ crib. Marble child angels observe
the crowds. Red vel­vet chairs wait behind the altar.
The Basilica hums with the mur­mur of conversations.
A choir sings in Latin beneath scar­let, gold, blue, green
and orange arch­es, domes, stars, crests and lau­rels. A priest
hush­es tourists from an open con­fes­sion­al. Euro
are exchanged for can­dles and bless­ings. A mar­ble pope kneels
beneath saints and mar­tyrs. Bells toll. Latin inscrip­tions adorn
floors, walls and ceil­ings. Red can­dles burn in golden
can­de­labras. Velvet ropes deny access to holy
spaces. Adoring wor­ship­pers kneel before a gold­en cross
on the altar. An ambu­lance siren beseeches
from Via dell’Esquilino. Recessed floodlights
illu­mi­nate mahogany con­fes­sion­als and polished
bench­es. A white-robed priest reads alone in a booth. Roman
numer­als immor­tal­ize dates of birth and death, lengths of reigns.
A baby crawls across the mar­ble floor as the organ
crescen­dos. Nuns in white, blue and black habits take photos
with smart­phones of naked tor­sos, bare breasts, gold­en hair,
anguished faces dom­i­nat­ed by fear of punishment.


A Prayer to Nick Cave

Cave, black
bard of Brighton
Berlin, Sao Paulo, Melbourne
and Wangaratta, com­pos­er of darkness

show us beau­ty and mys­tery, guide
us like Charon down the treach­er­ous rivers
of our mem­o­ries, imag­i­na­tion and desires, grant passage
to self-knowl­edge, the lime-tree arbour of art



I got drunk alone in Islington, drank
pint after pint of bit­ter, overwhelmed
by home­sick­ness and lone­li­ness, descended
deep­er and deep­er into the darkness
of myself like a work­er lowered
by ropes into a bot­tom­less well,
sat on a wood­en stool at the bar,
ignored Shane McGowan drink­ing pints
of vod­ka and ton­ic in the corner,
let my head sink towards my chest,
shoul­ders slump. I exchanged ten quid
in the toi­lets for a small plas­tic bag
of white pow­der, decid­ed to get
me a lit­tle obliv­ion. Out
on Upper Street I stum­bled south-southeast
towards Angel, bought an international
call­ing card from a South Asian newsagent,
found a phone booth with shat­tered glass,
called a dear friend in anoth­er time zone,
con­fessed my sins, received forgiveness.

Note: The phrase “get me a lit­tle obliv­ion” is from the song Perfect Blue Buildings by Counting Crows.


Gothic Chambers

my guest       recov­ered, I had       trou­ble to keep       the men, who wished
ques­tions         I would not allow     tor­ment­ed                         curiosity
state    body     mind        restora­tion             depend­ed upon       repose
Why had he come                                        in so strange a vehicle?

lead­ing the way upstairs              I should hide          not make a noise
her mas­ter had an odd                          cham­ber                                     and nev­er let
any­body lodge there

When I had attained the age of seventeen
a stu­dent at the uni­ver­si­ty of Ingolstadt
my father thought                                   I                                          should be
made acquaint­ed with       cus­toms          of my coun­try                                    in my
lab­o­ra­to­ry                         the moon                 ris­ing from the sea    for my employment
I remained idle leave
for the night                    has­ten its con­clu­sion                    train of reflection
con­sid­er the effects

think him dead       his face and throat             washed with rain       bed­clothes dripped
lat­tice, flap­ping               grazed             hand     rest­ed on the sill blood
trick­led          bro­ken skin                    fin­gers                         doubt               he was dead

NB: An era­sure poem uti­liz­ing pages from a midterm exam. All text from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Emily Bronte’sWuthering Heights



A toned man stands at the counter
in his kitchen, pink shirt-sleeves rolled,
spoons white sug­ar into highball
glass­es, adds twelve mint leaves, cuts lime
into wedges, squeezes fresh juice
over sug­ar, pulverizes
mint, tongs ice cubes into each glass,
pours a stream of white Cuban rum,
tops off the drink with soda water,
stirs vig­or­ous­ly with a cocktail
stick. Waiting for the door­bell to chime
he mem­o­rizes his amorous
pitch, hopes for an erot­ic tryst,
con­vinces him­self she won’t flinch.


Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet resid­ing in Texas. His books include Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021); (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020); BLUE (above/ground press, 2020); Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017); Distance (Ginninderra Press, 2015); Suburban Exile (Picaro Press, 2011); and Symptoms of Homesickness (Picaro Press, 2010). His poet­ry, pub­lished in four­teen coun­tries, has appeared in jour­nals & antholo­gies includ­ing Anthropocene, Cordite Poetry Review, The Elevation Review, fourW, In Parentheses: New Modernisms, Mascara Literary Review, The Quarantine Review, Skylight 47 and Westerly. He is the poet­ry edi­tor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.