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January Gill O'Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She is executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and teaches at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts.

Early Memory

January Gill O'Neil
I remember picking up a fistful 
of sand, smooth crystals, like hourglass sand 
and throwing it into the eyes of a boy. Johnny
or Danny or Kevin—he was not important. 
I was five and I knew he would cry.

I remember everything about it—
the sandbox in the corner of the room
at Cinderella Day Care; Ms. Lee,
who ran over after the boy wailed for his mother,
her stern look as the words No snack formed on her lips.
My hands with their gritty, half-mooned fingernails 
I hid in the pockets of my blue and white dress.
How she found them and uncurled small sandy fists.   

There must have been such rage in me, to give such pain
to another person. This afternoon, 
I saw a man pull a gold chain off the neck
of a woman as she crossed the street. 
She cried out with a sound that bleached me. 
I walked on, unable to help, 
knowing that fire in childhood
clenched deep in my pockets all the way home.

From Underlife by January Gill O'Neil. Copyright © 2010 by January Gill O'Neil. Used by permission of CavanKerry Press.

January Gill O'Neil

January Gill O'Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She is executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and teaches at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts.