First the Feathers by Amanda Bell

Our writers give voice to what it means to be Irish in a changing Ireland.

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Shortlisted for the 2017 Bord Gais Irish Book Awards Poem of the Year Award and for the 2018 DLR Shine / Strong Award

Bell faces the shadows cast by loss and change without flinching and thereby honors what it is to be alive.

— Jane Clarke

2017 / 80 pages / €12
ISBN: 978-1-907682-56-8
Cover photo: Niall Murphy

(click to view cover)

First the Feathers

First the Feathers

By Amanda Bell

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AMANDA BELL is a professional member of the Irish Writers Centre and holds a Masters in Poetry Studies. Her haibun collection Undercurrents (Alba Publishing, 2016) was awarded second prize in the Haiku Society of America’s Kanterman Merit Book Award and shortlisted for a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award by the Haiku Foundation. Her children’s book The Lost Library Book was published by The Onslaught Press in May 2017. She was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series in 2016 and twice highly commended for the Patrick Kavanagh Award. In 2015 she won the William Allingham Poetry Prize and she is the editor of Maurice Craig: Photographs (Lilliput, 2011) and The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of Poetry by the Hibernian Writers (Alba Publishing, 2015).


First the Feathers

The woodcock lies still,
head lolling towards the weight of his long beak,
matt black eyes camouflaged in mottled brown.

I tug the silken down
against the grain with steady thumbs,
mindful not to break the cobwebbed skin.

Bared, the breasts are cool and smooth.
I crop the twiggy legs:
small claws gesture from the feather pile.

The wings I open like a book:
press down, stretch out the elegant pins,
scissor through the shoulder joint —
use a knife for the sinews and skin.

Turned over, the back is quick to pluck.
Incongruously large, the head and feathered neck —
I cut them off, the long beak faced away.

The white-mounded rump is stubbled
by pale thick-rooted quill stumps:
with the knife point I enlarge the vent,
finger out the looped beige guts.

Squeezing beneath the wings I probe
for organs, anxious
not to squash the little bundle out of shape.
How clean it seems, trussed neatly —
though I can’t erase the trace
of talcum-powdered belly
from my fingers.

(after Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife)

Grinding the octopus against a rock
to tenderize its dense white flesh, he sees
the clustered suckers on its arms, and baulks
to contemplate the breadth of what it feels.
Onshore she dreams him diving deep for pearls,
lungs closed, eyes wide, hands combing through the weed
where oysters are concealed, their ridged shells curled
around each tiny iridescent seed.
The artist halts with blade in hand, to think
how images cut into wood with steel
will come to life where paper meets the inked
woodblock — his inner reveries revealed.
The dreamless sea embraces every grain
of sand — more salt than blood, wetter than rain.