John D. Kelly

Rowing Backwards

John D. Kelly

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Rowing backwards,

out to watch the pair of mute swans, 

the ones that nest on Clonmin Lough


the ones that have built their raft

of reeds, this year,

in the same spot as the year before —


the year when you were much more 

than only ballast in this boat

and we were adrift as if on a vast sea


of salt. I dip-in my wooden oars

alone now, drift again, then halt 

as I snag one on a floating lily pad


and, ever so gently, take care

not to sever it,

break its link — its dancing stem


or harm its pure white petals

in full flower, or uproot its anchor 

in the soft silt below that primal soup


where ancient pike lurk

ready and waiting to lunge at perch

or roach or unsuspecting bream.


I dream of blue skies that limpid eyes

came out of like butterflies

with silver linings on the undersides 


of delicate wings; and I think of things 

collateral — the flip side of a pane, 

or a coin that has both a head and a tail


that cruelly stings, presents a barrier —

a heavy toll on a heart that's been cloaked

in lead for much too long.


I think of choices made,

the holding of a friend’s hand, a song;

and that time — that moment in this boat


when you chose to move back a little —

one thwart back — to gift me a better view 

of where we were both coming from.



John D. Kelly


John D. Kelly lives and writes in Co. Fermanagh. Since he began writing seriously in 2011, his work has been commended in several competitions and printed in various literary publications. He was Highly Commended in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2016, awarded joint ‘Silver’ in the International Dermot Healy Poetry Competition in both 2015 and 2014, and won first prize in Hungry Hill ‘Poets Meet Painters’ 2014, amongst other awards. He is currently working towards his first collection.



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