Nicola Heaney is from Derry, and has poems in a number of journals across the UK and Ireland – including The North, The Cormorant, Crannóg, Skylight47 and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal. Her poetry has also been shortlisted twice for the Bridport Prize (in 2019 and 2020). Nicola recently published Ulster Fairytales & Legends with The O'Brien Press, and is now working on her first collection.
Amelia Earhart popped in for tea
on a hot afternoon in 1932.
Destined for Paris, she landed instead
on Gallagher’s field in Ireland’s North West.
As out of place as her Lockheed plane
amongst the grazing sheep and cattle,
she stood in her trousers and leather coat,
calm as a Sunday stroll in the country.
'Have you come far?' a farmhand asked.
She grinned, wide eyes the colour of sky. 'America.'
Years later, on another island,
in a different ocean miles across the world,
she was found by another Gallagher,
an Irishman conquering the Empire’s
last colony on a rocky outcrop.
He identified her by her bones,
a bottle of Benedictine and a tube of hand lotion –
a broken rouge compact, a woman’s shoe
and the remnants of a pot of freckle ointment
all pointed to her. But the scientists disagreed.
'It’s a man', they said. She stayed missing,
despite Gallagher’s protests.
'It can’t be her – the bones are too long …
Plus, this person survived for weeks,
distilling drinking water in flames, living
off turtles, fish and birds. It can’t be her.'
The authorities closed the case, lost her bones.
Gallagher died on the island. She’s still missing.
In an estate on the city fringes,
a museum marks where she landed,
its entrance bricked up against trespassers,
windows long gone to teenage vandals.
In the carpark, half-naked children play
among caravans, weeds and burnt-out cars,
running around with arms outstretched,
trying to build enough speed to fly.
Burrowed in black blistered seaweed
that splits the beach in two
a whelk shell lies empty.
I don’t know why I notice it,
rough bran mottled with cream,
nothing like the shining white ones
we used to collect.
You taught me how to select the best.
I’d bring them to you and you’d turn them over
with long hands so similar to mine,
red fingernails tapping for blemishes.
At home, you’d coat them in nail polish
until they shimmered like nebula,
placed on the kitchen windowsill
where I’d gaze up at them, forbidden from touching.
I pick the shell up, trace the ridges,
turn it to expose iridescent white and pink
within, like the innards of a fresh cut.
Placing it to my ear, I listen
to the churn of waves calling it back
out into grey seas.
I could take it with me,
place it on the windowsill next to the sprig
of shrivelled heather picked on a Donegal hill,
add it to the cairn I’m building
in my English kitchen – instead, I replace it
gently between tidemarks in wet sand.
In Plaza Mayor, a bronze horse stamps on air,
his belly filled with sparrow corpses.
For centuries, they sought the promise of shade
within, hopped onto his tongue, went deeper,
fluttered down his throat, found themselves
trapped, unable to fly back up
into light. Hundreds died in his belly,
suffocated by fiery darkness.
Cardboard shelters fill the porticoes
around the square, the city’s homeless
hiding from the searing heat.
At café tables, people sip coffee
under shade of frescoed buildings,
eyes hidden by sunglasses reflecting sky.
During the war, someone threw a bomb
into the horse’s mouth which opened its guts
and belched out the corpses entombed inside
sending them skywards, back into air.