ALTAR TO WHAT I WON’T RELINQUISH
What if we played unbroken.
No wax spilled. Pretend the glass
fast, liquid. Move like that. Like wishing.
Like slipping into shallow water. I can’t
call this a ritual, just stealing. Lighter. Nail
polish. Cookie fortune. Concert ticket.
Generic enough to never beg interrogation.
I’ll take what you’ll never miss.
A dollar. A bookmark. Myself.
As for the teeth, I’ve folded each
brittle star into a drawer where
they can’t brand you anymore.
I can’t imagine biting a shoulder
without tasting how you’d wince
out the invitation to open
wider. To sign my name.
FUTURE SENSE MEMORY
The holy war of the self
lives in the ends of fingers.
Our hands interrupted
by other bodies every day.
How common it becomes to recalibrate
the trebuchet. To cast myself
through walls with unnecessary ferocity.
When I first cut your hair we were praying
down a trench in the Fens. Could’ve been a parlor
trick, same as when I remember
keys fallen behind the bed
or your belt a coiled snake
around our ankles. I bet
your clothes fit me like muscle.
I bet the witch in my shears
summoned blood to boiling.
A scalp is better than eyes
as window to the soul. I hate
the word soul unless music.
Unless Otis unhinges his jaw. I’m taking
your hair, my palms a warm locket.
In the past I’ve been a maudlin prophet.
In the future I’ll undress you on sand.
Remember knowing how to storm
the shore before I named the tension
in your neck, your mourning
dove yes, morning yolk spilling
through our eyelids. Eight oily days
until I’ll know if armor is important.
If you’ve been & won & gone.
how to whistle
shoes make the man aware he can leave
at any moment. we’re affectionate strangers
because we’re aware of the alternative.
it’s enough to buy the first round. to look away
& feel your wallet thinning. it’s beyond plenty
to chew a lip that isn’t yours, to lace your body
into the scars of another’s recent longing. I’m sure
I’ve bled on sadder men. for this one, I apologized
but meant you needed this. he’s sick & starts the shower
for the third time, says I’m amazing for not churning
at the sugar of all we swallowed like new birds.
I guess I forgot to eat dinner. he told me to be quiet
but revised silence with want. cracked pepper over me
& chased the grit through every corner.
pinned me at the elbows & broke a finger
holding on so tight. a February holiday
seems a cruel joke. let’s celebrate loss instead of love.
I’ll eat a single pill for breakfast & feel wild
from un-sleep. I can’t act kinder than I have
already. I find rough, pretty men hysterical
& they find me old at the corners
of my eyes & older still in the way
I walk home holding my own hand.
Emily O’Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her recent poems and stories can be found in Five Quarterly, Profane, and Split Rock Review, among others. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of Yes Yes Books’ Pamet River Prize and she edits poetry for Wyvern Lit.