We build things- built things-
like shower rails and kitchen lights,
Keto dishes that died in the oven,
theories on converting Korea into forever
and not just a 3-week diversion from dysphoria.
Kisses, we built kisses out of thin air
and laughter, laughter we built as if
it was all we needed to feed our day.
I was the funny one and you laughed
at times like you’d never laughed before.
Sometimes we built bridges
to cross divides we didn’t always understand,
sometimes we built boats but forgot the oars.
Sometimes we built temporary positions
around sofas and shallow shows to balance
the shit we didn’t have the correct tools
to deal with.
Once, we built a language
to lock ourselves into while on the outside
where it could be cold and cutting and callous.
Sometimes we built walls
for the other to climb over-
sometimes we liked to test the other-
to tease, to taunt, to attract, to test
the recoil of the elastic.
We build things- we built things-
like shower rails and silly meals and signs
and languages and kisses to complete
and sometimes we built walls
though, in the end,
one was too high to get back over.


All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly.

Photo from an art installation in Jeju, South Korea



In a quiet corner of Korea,
tucked thoughtfully behind a dozen back street twists
designed to derail any uptight tourist, there sits
a pair of us, unbreakable, in the evening light
and smiling, still

In a wooden bar
at the far end of the Seoul where cocktails
came with chicken soup and crisp fruit crumbles
and ears that smiled at my tongue twisted Thank you
in a language I wished was mine, you can subtract time
from the year that followed and find us,
smiling, still

On a stone seat
under the shining shadow of a palace that honoured space
before all else, that wanted to be a unity instead of a history,
still, there sits a pair of us, stealing a moment from time
as if we knew that wishes were sometimes
just sweet dreams

like crisp fruit crumbles or chicken soup to satisfy the soul.


All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly


Inspired by a Twitter Poetry Prompt



Humble at the heart of this landscape,
this dreamscape I’m training through,
I’m taken by its blossoming breast;
forests firing like volcanos that have shun their rest,
luscious leaves of lava sweep through cities
for man has no control over the mountain
just as nature has no defence against the molten flame
as fiery as the kimchi I’m trying to comprehend.

This one’s a little more digestible, you tell me
but I know you’re teasing as you toss with your own truth.

Beyond our feasting over meals
bigger than bellies but smaller than budgets,
skyscrapers shoot up over mammoth mountains,
a competition that man has no time to master
while in homes, humble, calmness is harboured
to the shore instead of clutter to sink beneath.

Humble resides in the heart of this Republic
once ravaged, often raped, now a melting pot of mystery;
many foreign feet of soldiers stamping
have dug their shadow into all that still somehow shines.

Museums have wings for Japan and China
and those Mongols who molested these mountains
still standing, still growing, still calling us to come
and climb and see the world from another side.

We come to the call of the mountains,
all sweaty chested and dosed in awe,
my heart is held at this height,
it trembles beneath this fragile flesh
and I hold on tighter to each grip of grandeur
and wonder how long my footprints will be cemented in this soil.

From here, high above the crow’s nest,
where Buddha rests with all that remains,
where fortresses have been forged and since forgotten,
these cities sweep away from who they were
and show themselves as who they are becoming.

We are not who we were
but what we have made
out of what has been,
in dusted days,
done to us. 


All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly. This week’s theme was South Korea which I travelled through last year when everything was being questioned; my relationship, my former partner’s dysphoria, our own identity, my strength, literally and emotionally, my breath, the first introduction to a panic attack on top of a volcano at 5am while waiting for a sunrise that was not as exceptional as the attack which I thought at the time was a heart attack (yes, I can occasionally be dramatic; you should have seen me in the hospital entrance area when they were trying to tell me it might be very expensive to come in and be treated as a foreigner while I was telling them it might be worse if I died in the middle of their corridor) . All in all, the country, its peace and people and proximity to me at the time, left it a beautiful mark. It was the toughest time and the most precious. Buddhas, blossom, beauty and an understand of breath.



High on a hilltop, you climb above your age
and whisper the wisdom of your ancestors like its wealth
(hush, I say, to hear the humble)
worn words as woven into the earth as the roots
of the trembling trees standing to support those above it.

High on a hilltop, a former teacher caresses history
like a caretaker tends the glories growing in a garden he was given,
tales time would have tossed but his time mind still meditates over
while I wonder where I was a year, a month, an hour ago?

High on a hilltop, we lean into the comfort
to accept all that we have found indecipherable.

We take the right side at the entrance, as instructed,
and bow, thrice, and the empty space recalls the place of the emperor
who once took the central path while the guards, armed
with faith in the form of a dragon, harmony in the form of their music
and strength in the size of their sword, wards off the demons
and welcomes in the inner light.

There is light here, a gentle light, a subtle light to caress the skin,
to sink within as we mount and meditate on how we got here,
to this hill, to this land, to this life, to this breath.

High on the hilltop, we breathe in the simplicity of common incense
and sway as the chimes ring out to remind us
we are not one, alone, but one single part of the whole

and we bow again, thrice, and follow the stream that knows more
about its route than we will ever to understand about our own.


All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly. This is a reworking of an older poem for a week recalling travels in South Korea in 2018. 



This city does not sleep,
the wind as wistful as thoughts I cannot gather,
here, on this sojourn to the south of Seoul.

Horns honk along highways
waking drivers out of daydreams the night can’t decipher
and we buckle up and giggle briefly in back seats
but I cannot distinguish those star-bound lanterns hung with hope
from the knotted sheets I know not how to untwist.

On the soft slopes,
where Buddha has been worshiped into rock,
helicopters chase the rising sun
while you chase the parts of yourself pills cannot pacify.

Dysphoria is the new mantra.

This body won’t sleep,
this mind has taken to meander along this midway
as trumpeters announce connecting trains
we are always breathless to keep up with,
where palaces accumulate space
in place of standard stains of garish gold,
here, on this eastern stretch of the journey,
here, where cars honk in foreign tongues, far from familiar.

All is not what it once seemed,
this mouth no longer makes sense
as I cut across these sweeping vistas of strange words
breathed with bows and ways so traditional they worry the West.

Here, where there is more space to breathe and my lungs ache to adapt.

In the North,
strange armies are Trumping connections
the other continents are too confused to comprehend.

But here,
south of the strangled ties and demented ducks,
sitting sweet beneath a wiser moon,
the streets are awash with twinkling stars
below a billowing blanket of nature’s blossom;
a covering of comfort which concrete can’t squash and man cannot master.

My body can’t sleep…

I’ve seen too much but still hope for more
while this city wakes up to who it truly wants to be.


All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly. This is a reworked poem for a week recalling last year’s breathless sojourn in South Korea. Photo taken outside the Dongaemun Design Plaza.



Eyes a slip of grey from blue in a city not known as home,
on a mountainside to shelter a temple,
she is as welcome as the wind is warm,
she was there before us and we were caught before we knew it.

She carves life, carefully, like the Buddha etched into stone,
the chisel is the compliment to the rock and not the ruin,
an outer expression of inner contentment,
a monastic monk on a meditative mountain and I fall
between the stillness that rests behind each word.

Did her mouth smile
or just her eyes that shade of grey a brush away from blue
as she takes us to her temporary temple of wood and wonder
and shares with us a simple feast on a sweltering day
a treat along the trail, a rest upon the journey,
a moment to bear witness; not to be greater than the Buddha,
not to rise higher but to reflect on what we can become.

We climb over rock and broken earth,
diverge through dead ends that still deliver more light than loss,
we thirst and tire and then take in another treat; another temple, another tree,
a smile from the locals who look and laugh
and wonder why we came and what we will take back.

We travel on and place our tired feet into holds others once held to
as we witness wonders so many others may never see.
We have sat and shared joy like food, laughter like it was love
and coffee like it was an elixir to let us in on the light that lingers over life
and the eyes of the gentle light from Lithuania,
a slip of grey from a sea of blue
seeing the simple synchronicity in all that is true.


All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly. This week’s theme is South Korea and recalling the travels though it and the faces found along the way.



Fans open like a chest catching air,
clouds sweep the mountain like a bellow baying,
colour is just a caress away from grey,
a breath can be unbearable if the body is breaking,
a cloud is a cup of rain not fully considered.

We climb over mountains to where the air is lighter
and prayer almost a palpable palace of peace, 
the sky comes down to press its fragility upon our flesh.

‘Even a storm can break,’ I hear the wind whisper,
‘see how the roof slopes; you can only put so much weight
upon a single structure.’

I stand below a giant bell, its ring rung out
but it’s echo is like a yellow earthquake;
still rippling along the fans of these red roofs.
It is not over just because the earth stops shaking,
we still tremble, long after, and carry in our veins
the fleshed tattoos of how the web once caught us,

like an old map of one country now torn into a fear and a freedom.

Fans open, another echo, another cloud comes down, comes closer.
Take smaller steps, don’t miss out,
don’t outrun the rivers of colour in this drying earth,
the clouds that will, once again, pour like a fountain over fragile flesh,
don’t miss the bellow that will roar a fresh breath into battered body
in this land so still with movement, still moving,
still sacred, sacred and still and silent and wise and wonderful
and singing out over the silence for more and more and…

‘Even a storm can break,’ she said,
even something as strong as a storm can eventually break.


All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly. Photographs taken at the Beomeosa Temple in Busan, South Korea, June 2018.



We break from the path to follow the light,
light that has no alignment to direction,
to road or wood, less wandered or not,
light that touches trees that have known
more darkness than I will ever close my eyes
to see and still they stand to catch the light,
looking like leopards now with their spots,
spots of light, speckles, a sparkle in the shade.

There is a boat, waiting in the bay, by a break
in the trees, a small boat, crossing the currents
that curtail time, it has seen more storms
open out than I will ever shut shelters from,
even in that little bay, where the bark breaks
for those towers of trees that could tell tales,
out beyond, out yonder, where the light
is brighter, lighter, where the grass growing
golden meets sweetened shore, growing shorter
but sweeter too, a boat that waits to bring us
to the other side where I hope the light can still
reach us, teach us not of direction but of how
to be a bright spec that can sparkle in the shade.


All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly. A week of recalling travels through South Korea, 2018. Photo taken in World Heritage site of  Hahoe, outside Andong



Time swims out on a tide I wish I could
capture forever on a canvas of comfort,
I drop my shirt and turn, like Orpheus,
and lose hold, sands slide over skin
and seaweed slivers snakelike
along this shore once so unsure;
rough rocks recall all the lava once
eliminated. I stand in all the stillness
that once roared, even as the tides
tempt my feet to come out further
into that bay of blue forever. The sea
is breath taking and days later
all breath seems lost and I wonder
what the wave took with it
and where is my Eurydice now?


All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

A poetic week recalling the currents of South Korea, 2018