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emily o'neill


short descriptions of the dead


I want to talk actual shit but I’d have to change
names here. telling the truth about the gone-too-soon
kids from the suburbs might hurt folks who feign love for them
and I don’t want to hurt hypocrites.  I just want to remember
in full, ugly color. what good does it do to rewrite
someone I never liked enough to kiss
goodbye, simply because he’s dead?
he’s dead, so I want to kiss him
even less than I did in high school
when he abused his freakish height
and loomed over the girls in V-neck sweaters.
he’s dead, which makes him no good to anyone
except as a symbol of what stays buried from high school.
remember that party where that girl “cried
rape” and everybody was pissed about recalling
enough of the night to give accurate police statements?
I wasn’t there, but I still hear the glass breaking again
and again as it’s brushed from the kitchen counter
by an elbow. I know how differently the story would read
if it had been a knife instead of some idiot’s heavy pour
threatening her into a bedroom. I want to talk about death
without the crumpled car on the lawn at Pascack Valley
threatening us with our own chaos.  he’s dead and I won’t martyr him
as consolation for how he might’ve still grown up good
on a long enough timeline.  everyone acts like “too soon”
is apology enough for how many cars he keyed before the crash.
I don’t act like anything. I didn’t know him. he was loud and rude
and when he stopped showing up at shows I wouldn’t have noticed
but for the perpetual funeral rites. there’s no justice
unless we rebuild him in three monstrous dimensions
as a bully who bit it on a patch of black ice.  simple as that.
that girl everyone crucified for getting too drunk
would spend our kindness better than him.  I bet she still
can’t say “enough” without choking.




        after Sara Woods


when you were leaving & I shouted "I miss you
already" it was an unconscious reference to Sara's magazine
of tears, the one you read aloud on the porch/beach while I hid
swaddled in my tarot card print scarf to keep me
from the sun's teeth. maybe I’m a carrot, the kind
that grows legs & walks out of the ground
& into soup stuffed with ginger
but if possible—if I’m allowed
to make requests—let me be pretty as a pony running
laps without a rider. it makes sense, promise.

my hair is long enough now I can smell my bangs or
whiny air out my lips to force them off my face.
my hair smells like chlorine, & under that
it smells like your sweat, & under that it smells like pine
trees & I want to thank you for waiting quiet
while I put it up & let it fall a dozen times
before we left for dinner. I'm not used to having this much to deal with.
I am used to people I love saying I should hurry up & look at them
already. as if mirrors can't show us the future. as if the starting shot
can't wait one minute more.

we're mares even when we're angry. I'll braid
your mistakes, tie them with ribbon, if you'll just
grow them out a bit. let me see the place past
worst. we can call it September & gallop through the loudest leaves.
I'll braid your mistakes with mine & sing
rasp & swagger just like your favorite party ending
until we're dead & red in the sun's mouth.
you try to begin the un-leaving. you ask
me to wear the same dress. I don't know
how to stop being anxious so I just
keep repeating "please do."




Emily O'Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl.  Her recent poems and stories can be found in Glittermob, Muzzle Magazine, and Vector, among others.  Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of Yes Yes Books' Pamet River Prize and she edits poetry for Wyvern Lit.  You can pick her brain @tabernacleteeth or emily-oneill.com.