setting sail

Isla O’Neill

maia watches as she twirls

her wrist and the monsoon begins. satisfied

she begins to cut a dress

from the black velvet of her home.

stitches the pieces together with fine iron thread.

electra glares green-eyed as maia descends,

floating earthbound. orion shoots

a flaming arrow in exaltation.


when she’s free of her six sisters

she’s more careless, more mercury than ashen.

she glints in and out of country dances and wedding parties,

her bare feet betraying the slightest shine.

she often tiptoes through the dew, across the lawn

of her latest lodgings and stares at the sky.

the landlord, awoken by what he thought was a streetlamp exploding,

twitches back the net curtains to see

maia floating three feet above the earth. in the morning,

he mentions this to his wife, who makes a noncommittal reply

and reminds him that he’s overworked. in the guestroom, maia smirks.


her yellow sloping attic overflows with satin and spangles.

when the ladies ask where she gets them she only smiles

and sweeps her hands through the air. oh, here and there!

each dress skims close to skin, pins never draw blood.

she makes a little money. it is plenty. she asks too many

questions of the girls—they thrill to answer. she knows

and never tells. she passes their lovenotes in shot-silk linings.

some of them, she keeps.


she falls in love with each held glance, each clasped hand,

and knows she cannot so she does. what is a trellis,

without a climber? she squeals

her window open and hauls each lover in. it hurts

when she lowers them carefully back to the ground.

they wander home, dreaming.

in the morning there are threads

on the soles of their slippers.


they teach her dances, creak the floorboards.

in the morning the landlady feeds her knowing glances

across her fried kippers. maia does not blush.

she sees each only once. the rope holds only her.


when she’s had enough of bright colours and suffering,

she begins to spin the moon’s reflection into string,

and thread it with freshwater pearls. this takes time,

night after night of her fingers wrinkling

and her eyes straining. the season is elastic.

each stitch stretches far past her vision.

she reaches out and drags more gossamer in.


once she has finished her long long labour

she curls a lasso and throws it, blindly, upwards.

electra, sighing and sulking, grabs the end

and tugs. maia returns, first a silver pin,

then a spill of skirts, and finally a great glimmering girl.

she throws the pearls to the moon, as a gift,

and sits down to tell the stories to her sisters.

About the Author

Isla O’Neill is a literature student at the University of Edinburgh. She lives near the sea and if she could be a mythical creature, it would be the selkie, the seal-woman. She has been published in Acumen, Guillozine, Queer Theory, and The Places Zine. Often, she dreams of the sun and only occasionally does she bathe in it.