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About this poet

January Gill O’Neil was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and received a BA from Old Dominion University and an MFA from New York University. She is the author of Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. The executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, O’Neil also serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ board of directors and teaches at Salem State University. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.

The Blower of Leaves

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 you, 
while the stiff kiss of acorns puckers the ground.  

I am a fool. Even as the red impatiens wither and brown, 
they are still lovely. I feed the gaping mouths of lawn bags 

with their remains. All this time I was waiting 
for a heavy bough high above to crush us, 

but really I was waiting for you to say enough. 
It was a feeling that swirled inside me, 

a dark congruence, a tempest of the blood pulsing enough, 
 enough. How I had mistaken it for ordinary happiness. 

I can forgive the wind rustling the aging oaks, 
the clusters of leaf mush trapped along the fence line, 

but with you there is no forgiveness. 
Only refuse. Only the lawn’s dying clover

and weeds masquerading as grass. 
Nothing is ever easy or true,

except the leaves. They all fall.
Dependable as a season. 

From Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

From Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

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

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

2
poem
I remember picking up a fistful 
of sand, smooth crystals, like hourglass sand 
and throwing it into the eyes of a boy. Johnny
or Danny or Kevin—he was not important. 
I was five and I knew he would cry.

I remember everything about it—
the sandbox in the corner of the room
at Cinderella Day Care; Ms. Lee
poem
After the birthday crowds thin out,
after the “Hokey Pokey” and “Chicken Dance,”
after the parents have towed their shaky kids   
like cabooses ready to decouple	
and the pint-sized skaters have circled the rink 
like a gang of meerkats spun into a 10-car pileup, 
you turn sideways and angle by as “Another One