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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 15, 2016.
About this Poem 

“It is a flattering comparison, but I'm keenly aware that I live in a part of the country that’s less diverse. So when people say I look like Michelle Obama, I know they are trying to make a connection with me. This poem is a recognition of the awkwardness, the effort, and the patience it takes to let the moment unfold.”
—January Gill O’Neil

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year’s Eve Party 2014

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen, 
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our                         patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.

Copyright © 2016 by January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

January Gill O'Neil

January Gill O'Neil

January Gill O’Neil is the author of Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.

by this poet

poem
Start with your own body,
the small bones of the hands
moving toward the inlets of the fingers.

Wanting it too much invites haste.
You must love what is raw
and hungered for.

Think of the crab cake as the ending,
as you till away at the meat, digging for
errant shells and jagged edges.

Always, it’s a matter of
poem

We draw breath from brick
          step on stones, weather-worn,
                    cobbled and carved  

with the story of this church,
          this meeting house,
                    where Ben Franklin was baptized

and Phillis Wheatley prayed—a mouth-house
          where

poem
Always there is sky after sky waiting to fall. 
A million brilliant ambers twisting into 

the thinning October sun, flooding my eyes
in a curtain of color. My yard is their landing strip. 

Today I bow to the power of negative space, 
the beauty of what’s missing—the hard work 

of yard work made harder without