Spotlight series #81 : Nathanael O’Reilly

rob mclennan
3 min readJan 2, 2023

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


I was born in Warrnambool, Australia, on Gunditjmara country, a descendant of convicts & immigrants from Ireland, England, Wales & Portugal. My ancestors farmed in the Western District of Victoria & the McLaren Vale of South Australia on stolen land. I’ve always felt like an outsider & struggled to attain belonging. I left Australia when I was twenty-two & have lived overseas for more than half my life. I have multiple homelands & hometowns but don’t fully belong anywhere. My poems are creations of my experiences, relationships, beloved places & obsessions: hybridity, distance, alienation, homesickness; landscapes, border crossings & hedgerows; death, suburbia, mountain forests, bushwalks, Irish music & grasslands; sand dunes, islands, volcanic rock, bluestone walls & twilight; marriage & fatherhood; nuclear & extended families; live oaks & magnolias; campus lawns; cemeteries full of grandparents, great-grandparents & great-great grandparents; ancestors’ surnames; cobblestone-paved laneways; water; ancestral homelands; exile; accents & identity; invisibility; gazing & observing; backstreets; dreams & nostalgia; memories & forgetting; escape; grief & beauty; autumn leaves; driving through landscapes; running, walking, climbing, swimming & surfing; carrying coffins; Atlantic & Pacific crossings; lost youth; yearning; beaches & rivers; departure & return; trams, trains, planes, boats & ships; enlightenment; hills & mountains; fog; verandas & eucalyptus; home.


May Day

lawns and leaves wet from last night’s rain. puddles
on sidewalks and driveways. cars and trucks cruise
the boulevard in packs, released by traffic

lights from the intersection, tires whirring
fizzling, spraying water. mufflers grind
against the speed hump, squirrels burst from oaks

bound to the cover of shrubbery. beads
of water cling to auburn leaves. a blue
jay glides into the yard, settles on the black

wrought iron railing. water drips from the gutter
on the porch steps. footstep-sized puddles
glisten on blue-grey paving stones, damp boughs

and limbs undulate on the easterly
breeze. a neighbor strolls the sidewalk returning
from the 7eleven with steaming

coffee and a bag of donuts. cyclists
stream past, heads down, pushing hard towards
the river. landscaping crews pass in trucks

towing trailers crammed with rattling lawnmowers
edgers, trimers, leaf blowers. a college
girl shuffles past in an over-sized grey

sweatshirt, backpack hanging low, bouncing
as she heads towards the library. unseen
birds tweet, chirp and sing from treetops above

the roofline. Audis, Jeeps and Toyotas
rest in driveways, silent and still. powerlines
sway between oaks, magnolias and crepe

myrtles. a ginger cat sits on the sill
of an open window, nose pressed against
the fly screen, ears erect, head swiveling

My hands are like shovels

perfect for digging potatoes
from the dirt at Pa’s block

perfect for throwing bricks
and roof tiles on building sites

perfect for catching the ball
at the apex of the line-out

perfect for pulling water
when swimming through surf

perfect for swinging the axe
when splitting firewood

perfect for carrying pints
to the table in the snug

perfect for swinging children
in circles by the armpits

perfect for building sandcastles
on the strand with my daughter

perfect for moving laundry
from the washer to the dryer

perfect for carrying books
by the dozen to the library

perfect for scooping Lego
from the carpet into buckets

terrible for peeling
shells from boiled eggs

terrible for retrieving coins
from gaps between car seats

terrible for tying knots
in fishing line and thread

terrible for threading
the sewing machine needle

terrible for fastening clasps
on my wife’s necklaces

terrible for attaching the backs
of my daughter’s earrings

terrible for typing on tiny
smartphone keyboards

Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet; he teaches creative writing at The University of Texas at Arlington. His eight collections include Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021), (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020), BLUE (above/ground press, 2020), Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017) and Distance (Ginninderra Press, 2015). His poetry appears in over one hundred journals and anthologies published in fourteen countries, including Another Chicago Magazine, Anthropocene, Cordite Poetry Review, The Elevation Review, fourW, New World Writing, Mascara Literary Review, Ponder Review, Trasna, Westerly and Wisconsin Review. He is the poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature. His new chapbook, Dear Nostalgia, is forthcoming from above/ground press.