Author: Emily O'Neill

Emily O'Neill lives in Medford, MA. Her debut collection Pelican is forthcoming in 2014 from Yes Yes Books. She has been published in Pank, The Bohemyth, Paper Darts, and Word Riot. She can also be found on Tumblr and Twitter.

we’ll never go to Europe

because I don’t trust you not to ruin France,
not to wring all yellow light out of the tall grass & collect it
in a jar until it looks like piss.  we won’t mash grapes
with our hammer toes.  we won’t prune the vines
or our skin in a river with a name older than any branch
of my family tree.  you aren’t family.  never blood
enough to feel pulsing through me in the tar
black behind my eyes.  I don’t not dream you anymore.
but I can’t see us there, no blurry frisson or hayloft
kiss.  I will never kiss you, you Napoleonic
War.  I forget you constantly, forget our boring
history.  I forget it more with every stinging drink.

how would you do it

the answer is rocks, like Virginia
pockets so full they knock the spring out
of your arches and silt you until
you’re a memory bobbing against a dock
rotten as a boat taking on water

the answer is pills, cos they’re easy
as opening a mirror and swallowing
every ounce of silver that shows
you your face

you’ve buried hemlock in the seams of every dress
poison close to your skin but it never gets in, never
deep enough to chew the mortar to sand
to sea glass you smother
to make you a mother to the lies
you lullaby with your dirty breath

Let Me Put On a Show For You

I can be lovely—demure to all that’s asked—or you can watch
me struggle out of this skin like a milk-eyed snake.  Tell me
you’ve never seen muscle double back on intent.  Tell me
the only trapdoor out of pain is relentless movement.

I’m a shining example of doing your worst.  I’ve made my act
on the bones of the most glaring mistakes.  Here I am, sheathed
in the bad side of my brain.  Here I am, crashing full tilt
through the unsuspecting night.

Final Exam

Complete the following thought:

You should leave __________ more often.

A) it alone
B) me alone
C) [ your hometown here ]

Start naked.  Orgy of wrong answers.
Everybody watching.  Yes
puts a hand on your knee
& you forget to flinch.

You can pass a test without being handed a pencil.

You can choose your own undoing
or let the machine do it.

Execute the following proof:

If you hear every train fleeing at night, then _______.
If you don’t have time to count them, then ________.
If your hope grows ugly in her old age, then

it’s best to admit you’re tired.
Hoboken is only a word.
Vonnegut is only a word.
None of the stars are running
to or from anywhere but your eyes.

Treat every person you meet
like a stranger.  It’s pleasant to speak
openly with you.
  Always the first
time you’ve met.

What do you think of me?
(seven words or less)


if this were meant to be the year of scared
rabbits, you should’ve burrowed in
before cold snap, hidden your soft ears.

eaten the cabbage gone off in the fridge,
let slaw sing you dream songs. snore like you do
in your knit hate, your clothes mountain, the burn

and cringe when sleep opens you to step
through the door. sadness: soporific. sadness,
sugar in your tea. two cubes lose their corners

to spinning earl grey. the tea sewn
hush with rose petals. let me tell you
what you’ll see when the ground opens:

asparagus shoots like living knives, strawberries
pink as what of me you want to eat.
hooves. shale. shit. smell where you bury you.

lick the salt that stayed. the sour’s a bit in your teeth so
I’ll pull. get out of the ground, coward. come
back to the sun broken. grow in this gallop, new.


Give him your keys
on a long chain.  Isn’t it a carnival
now with this door ajar?  Grease the wheels
with a whisper: you can have her.  See how
he shudders to life at the thought.  Watch him
volunteer your favorite bar with the crushed ice mint juleps.
Hope some doors remain closed.  Maybe she likes vodka,
leaves early.  Maybe she is strange enough: necessary, forgettable.
Don’t you wish you’d found her first?  Lover like a trick
picture.  Gone if you look too long.  Devil may care if you set him free,
so set him free.  Is he still your man if he’s tender, lips grazing
another woman’s neck?  Isn’t a carnival the perfect place to lose
him: pitched from your car into The Tunnel of Love, no doors in or out
of the sweet shadow, no locks to pick in a panic, just electrified track
and a tinny song repeating and the grab bar with metal slides like bullets
pinning you into this cold cage, spinning you sick, but safe?

Don’t Worry

about rent money / about retail value / about how far
this check can stretch before snapping back to bite
your empty pocket / about debt / about enough / about interest
rates being a disinteresting line of conversation / about staying
interesting / about cash tips / about credit card offers /
about recession / about underemployment / about dreaming
too big for your lot in life / about dreaming you’re in love
with a rich man whose wealth isn’t thick enough
to send you spinning to sleep wet-kneed, gasping /
about dreaming you’re in love with a rich man
who treats you like a watch he wears only to parties /
about how he wants your face bright, your presence silent /
about how he has no face, only wallet / about gasping / about a long hall
full of locked doors and no skeleton key / about closets jammed
with dead promise / about dying / about funeral expenses / about
sitting up in your coffin at the funeral to apologize for the expense /
about gossip / about sleep / about grief / about marrying
rich, or at all / about unslaked loneliness, a jumping spider /
about the well in your stomach, hungry for flood / about the well
that drinks and drinks instead of watering anyone / about unquenchable
dirt / about swallowing all of it and asking for seconds /
about making a scene with your bad
manners / about mouth on faucet /
about gulp / about guilt

Sales Quotient

Some people know
how to get under your skin

without permission.  Sometimes
it is appropriate to attack your prospect.

Putting bandages on a prospect’s hurt
is a big part of your job.  Getting emotionally involved helps

you close the sale.  The most important part
of your personality during a selling

situation is your intellect.  If you are careful,
personal growth can be painless.  Only

you can control your destiny.  You have to
be in the right place at the right time.