Emily O’Neill



I once cut
the web
of skin between
two of my fingers
and bled and bled
as your curls went.

You were deaf
and hopeful for madness.
I will not touch you
again with the same hands
that sifted through
my father’s salt and pepper,
that oiled sores and painted
long-dead women
and wolves and cities at night
and wrote Van Gogh Van Gogh
Van Gogh
like a child writes
towards the future
by choosing
a new name.

Cover your head
with your hands.
Keep both your ears
through spring.

Cut out your tongue
instead as it lisps
in broken French
and you mismanage
your idiot myth.



When I was a girl
and you were a girl
we were both floral
and ungivable. Squash

blossom. Bleeding
Hearts in the sideyard.
Vine, albino root. Petals
open only in moonlight.

Then we were men.
It got easy: we ate curries
on Thayer, wore hats in summer,
wandered nights unchaperoned
as Providence became unbearably young
again. Our gutter spit, our busy hands.
Our teeth, aching out smiles.
Our unscandalous skin.

When I was a woman, I wasn’t.
Wasn’t flinching or furnace. Not mist
or down, not soft enough to settle on.
You were a nymph and I was an echo.
You, a letter and I, the lipstick.
I waited for you in the wrong skin.
The suitor: stuttering,

Me, a boy
on skinned knee.
No bouquet or corsage.
Garden of waxed rind.
Shed of metal spike.
Backwards and thorny
as a Bible Belt prayer.

In an instant, in the kitchen,
we are girls again: snow-damp,
wilted. I am cherry-stained
teeth. You are
the absence of yes.


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