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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.

Night at the Roller Palace

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 Bites the Dust” 
thumps overhead. You give a finger point to the DJ stand 
because, in your mind, we are soldiers in the march against time,
grooving to the retro beat while the disco ball shines overhead
cut crystal against rainbow walls. 
You glide like Mercury or Apollo Ono 
without wings or skin suit, in low-rider jeans 
that hug your body like you hug corners, 
pass them all on the smoothed-out parquet floor,
worn down by time and rhythm. The trick is 
to make it look effortless, remind them that
your quickness is a kind of love. You are the spark 
between wood and wheel. And when your cranky kids 
hang out by the wall ready to go,
holding those eight wheels by their brown leather tongues, 
you give them a wave and keep circling, 
Just one more song, you say.   
This is your “me” time. It’s all-skate. 
You’ve got your whole self in—
That’s what it’s all about.

Originally published in Sou’wester. Copyright © 2012 by January Gill O’Neil. Used with the permission of the author.

Originally published in Sou’wester. Copyright © 2012 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
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
Make me laugh over coffee,
make it a double, make it frothy
so it seethes in our delight.
Make my cup overflow
with your small happiness.
I want to hoot and snort and cackle and chuckle.
Let your laughter fill me like a bell.
Let me listen to your ringing and singing
as Billie Holiday croons above our heads.
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