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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
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

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

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