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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 Rookie

America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes

around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,

a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,

tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes

as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,

their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.

The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs

while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…

to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about

what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.

But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,

how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.

Copyright © 2015 January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

Copyright © 2015 January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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
A gray hoodie will not protect my son 
from rain, from the New England cold.

I see the partial eclipse of his face
as his head sinks into the half-dark

and shades his eyes. Even in our 
quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 

I fear for his safety—the darkest child
on our street in the empire of blocks.
poem
No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits, 
crab cakes & hush puppies, 
black-eyed peas & succotash 
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens
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