Biology Homework

Still some red in her hair, my mum took me down
to the lough edge, always at home with leftovers

of empty shells, translating how they had once
lived, turning over unnoticed millennia in her hands.

Late August afternoon, Strangford cold hollowing
my back as we leant over pools, I was a reluctant

student, a little sick with first unlove, unmoved
by the rich seaweed that slipped into steely water

full of brittle stars, sea anemones; a menagerie
of creatures with Latin names she could still recite,

held sugar kelp across her arms like amber silk,
a gift for me that I wasn’t ready to wear. Bending

over, she wanted me to love her sweep of salty
exotica, from metal to opal to white at our feet –

Now, I want to go back, draped in sea-green,
arrange the sea aster, thrift, campion in her hair,

let her take all afternoon to lift each shell and tell
me its story, turn a mussel over to see an oil slick

of blue, its shape like a whale that swallows us
whole, call the strong tide of that place our own.

Olga Dermott-Bond

Listen to Olga reading ‘Biology Homework’ (1:36).

Olga Dermott-Bond is originally from Northern Ireland and lives in Warwickshire. She was the winner of the BBC Proms poetry competition in 2019 and her first pamphlet ‘apple, fallen’ was published by Against the Grain Press in March 2020. She is a teacher and has two daughters.

© text and audio 2020