A Recovered Memory of Water by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill - A Friend to Pádraig Ó Tuama

In this episode, Pádraig Ó Tuama talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Cuimhne An Uisce' / 'A Recovered Memory of Water' by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Paul Muldoon.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet and theologian from Ireland whose poetry and prose has been published widely across Ireland, the US and the UK. He presents Poetry Unbound with On Being, a hugely successful podcast where he explores a single poem. Short and unhurried; contemplative and energizing, this podcast had more than a million downloads of its first season. The second season began 28th September 2020, with new episodes released on Mondays and Fridays for twelve weeks.


Pádraig joined The Poetry Exchange online and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.

Many thanks to Gallery Press for granting us permission to share the poem in this capacity. Do visit them for more inspiration here:


Fiona reads the gift reading of 'A Recovered Memory of Water'.


Cuimhne An Uisce / A Recovered Memory of Water
by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Paul Muldoon

Sometimes when the mermaid’s daughter
is in the bathroom
cleaning her teeth with a thick brush
and baking soda
she has the sense the room is filling
with water.

It starts at her feet and ankles
and slides further and further up
over her thighs and hips and waist.
In no time
it’s up to her oxters.
She bends down into it to pick up
handtowels and washcloths and all such things
as are sodden with it.
They all look like seaweed—
like those long strands of kelp that used to be called
‘mermaid-hair’ or ‘foxtail.’
Just as suddenly the water recedes
and in no time
the room’s completely dry again.

A terrible sense of stress
is part and parcel of these emotions.
At the end of the day she has nothing else
to compare it to.
She doesn’t have the vocabulary for any of it.
At her weekly therapy session
she has more than enough to be going on with
just to describe this strange phenomenon
and to express it properly
to the psychiatrist.

She doesn’t have the terminology
or any of the points of reference
or any word at all that would give the slightest suggestion
as to what water might be.
‘A transparent liquid,’ she says, doing as best she can.
‘Right,’ says the therapist, ‘keep going.’
He coaxes and cajoles her towards word-making.
She has another run at it.
‘A thin flow,’ she calls it,
casting about gingerly in the midst of the words.
‘A shiny film. Dripping stuff. Something wet.’

From 'The Fifty Minute Mermaid', Gallery Press, 2007.