Three Poems (#2) – Emily O’ Neill


Everything to Everyone
I put myself in stupid places: Hampton Beach
Casino Ballroom, same shoes on for 18 hours. Nobody buckles
at the beach. Nobody worries swell will snap them like a wish-
bone. One half of me is napping, the other half yell-singing
“Father of Mine.” My father didn’t vanish before my anger crawled
with aphids, then flowered. Rage didn’t die with him, only changed
shape. Who drew me a father without eyes? Was it his father
pulled over the night he was born, thrown into the drunk tank
slurring not from scotch but from thirst and didn’t the cops
laugh in his crinkled face when he asked for a candy bar
and didn’t Lee rescue him with the Hundred Grand in her purse
and deliver him to his only son? My grandmother wants me to believe
Owen only ever loved the track. Not her. Not his child. Dogs. Horses.
Paper tickets and the gates spring opening. Hating someone
when you’re young is easy and endless. If I say I haven’t
grieved this right, can you help me? Who hammered Dad’s blindspot
into my teeth like a curb? When I’m on my feet all day, every day,
bruised in the hips, unwilling to touch anyone who hasn’t seen me
shattered or shattering over this. Nobody gets behind the wheel
and asks to fall asleep. But I’m asking. Tell me when to stop.


In the script based on our life story
we watch movies about the care & keeping
of our worst possible selves. Adulthood. Try it on.
See how it fits the same as high school. All the bullies
have transplanted faces. Portia de Rossi, up-talking.
Sorority party same as slumber party, except now
with twice the vodka & no chasers. Not as pretty
as the future we’d hoped for, but it’s a future at all
which is more than nothing. If I wanted fan mail
I’d write a story not built on the backs of better
stories. We watch movies because we want handsome
problems who won’t let us out of their sight.
The truth isn’t glamorous enough to inspire ardor
but we’re not here to be loved. We’re here to tell the truth
about where everything went wrong. How many times
things got worse. Which stupid choices felt like
the right ones. Adulthood. Life imitating art
imitating other versions of how we could’ve lived
beyond ourselves. Our legacy, a cautionary tale.
A movie to keep us from re-treading old wounds.
People have different ways of putting it, but we’re talking
immortality. Why film was invented. No story ends
that’s in progress somewhere. Being remembered.
Being consumed by a neutral third party. Try to follow.
The survivors end up at college, very sensitive to the connection
between real life violence & movies, how the two animals feed
each other. The escalations of both. For argument’s sake,
the entire horror genre was destroyed by sequels.
By chase scenes. By corn syrup. By handsome problems
who kick ugly as anyone else. By plot holes
turned loopholes for the killer to come back
with a renewed grudge. Knife imitating heart
imitating plight of those doomed to watch themselves
die on screen. Not us. There are no rules here.
We’ve found out everything we weren’t meant to know,
but can’t die once they’ve fed our story the screen.

how it started

I was pretending you meant / nothing
in the way bodies don’t matter unless
you’ve decided they’re everything. I won’t say
how many I’ve seen sleeping. it’ll hurt. I don’t
want anybody to know me from hemlock.
I don’t want you close but come sit
next to the tub while I shower. hold
my soapy hand. it’s not silly I feel dirty
when you frown at me.

I was pretending to be famous / smarter
than the city that grew me up
girl in the first place. you can’t breed
furrows out of fields. I wasn’t actually important.
wore that shirt only once. it’s not silly to be sad
today. I’m sorry I’m laughing. it hurts
thinking we get nothing from difficult work.

I was pretending & never stopped / shoveled full
of ways to make me less offensive. funny,
the first walk home you couldn’t find your street.
we would’ve fallen off the end of America.
I wasn’t actually cold, but
it snowed. I miss that.

About Emily O'Neill

Yes Yes Books author, local catbug View all posts by Emily O'Neill

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