Poetry: Emily O’Neill

Always a Sinner

I kiss knives hollow
of purpose. Leave me warm
in my faith. Car alarms & the lonely
boy. Another baby
needs baptizing. Simple.

C’mon, Jesus. Pay my bills or return
me to dust. I lick the phone
receiver of your light. Slip
tomorrow from her leash,
invite 24 more hours in.

Yes, a spell. I fester slow. Hollow
angel. Sharpie skin.
What’s the point of denial
when it washes off with water. Take me
(hopeful) to the sewer. Blame rotten echo
on this spine without a voice.

Lust is stronger than threading
dromedaries through sewing needles.
Stronger than any thirst parable.

The best epistles weren’t
properly transcribed. Underneath the images,
look for lovers. The weakness.

Save me from
your shaking head. I can be
bone borrowed from stereo.
I can be Christmas. A lie, falling.
Your new reputation.

What’s the point of love if it won’t break me
an angel. C’mon, Zookeeper. Give me a choice
better than razor or grave. Better than singe.
Leave marks or I won’t learn.

                                                                                           after Sky Ferreira

She Drives the Honda to Wisconsin

My step-cat is pacing the front of the palace.
His snaggle teeth. The groan he wears

when his mother leaves. She’s at the circus museum. Needle
maiden, talking shop. She’ll return from Baribou darker.

Her hair, a smoke cloud in motel mirror. Our porch, hot & empty
all nights but these. Ninety inches of snow so

I can’t let our cat out, or me. No fridge food but butter
& Roger (her tabby) whines louder than winter has tuned

my bones to take. The quiet acts as my other stepchild.
Remote. I watch what movie we left

stuffed in VCR & yes, we get young
when there’s time & yes, I fear what ice might

rip us from our nest before I’m ready
for any solitary years. I’ve never lived

alone with an animal watching, telling me
how I’ve done wrong. Roger crows

for his favorite ghost, sharp ankle
of my only girl.

My mother made up the top bunk
for Cassandra our first afternoon

at college. We were afraid of the door
closing all week. What circus we’d miss.

What fire might start without us. I wait today
for our door, unlocking. The cat is hungry

& I don’t have any food.

Always a Sinner
My typical poetic inclination is to write from life, but that isn’t always possible, especially when I feel too strongly or too much at a given time. Forcing myself into a writing structure I can later break open is something I do to get myself out of ruts where all my imagery starts to blend together or the language in drafts is missing some of the spark I desire. When I have trouble writing anything I’m excited about, I do an exercise where I listen to a pop record straight through several times in succession and transcribe the lyrics as I hear (or mishear) them, then use what phrasing jumps out at me as a word bank for a poem. This poem came from performing that exercise using the Sky Ferreira album Night Time, My Time.

She Drives the Honda to Wisconsin
I treat first drafts of many poems like love letters, and this one began as a love letter to my best friend and roommate, Cassandra de Alba. We’ve been living and writing together in one way or another for eight years, and in that time, haven’t spent more than a week apart. I didn’t realize this until she left on a research trip for her graduate thesis that took her away for two weeks. Bad weather made it seem as though her trip wouldn’t end before I had to fly out for my west coast book tour for Pelican, and I panicked thinking we wouldn’t see each other for an entire month. Luckily, it didn’t end up working out that way, but the fear of parting stayed and built the poem anyway.

O'Neill Author Photo (1)Emily O’Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her recent poems and stories can be found in Five Quarterly, Profane, and Split Rock Review, among others. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of Yes Yes Books’ Pamet River Prize and edits poetry for Wyvern Lit. She lives in Medford, MA with a coven of feral women writers and their gigantic orange tabby, Roger Mindfucker.

photo: Jonathan Weiskopf