The Blower of Leaves

Always there is sky after sky waiting to fall. 
A million brilliant ambers twisting into 

the thinning October sun, flooding my eyes
in a curtain of color. My yard is their landing strip. 

Today I bow to the power of negative space, 
the beauty of what’s missing—the hard work 

of yard work made harder without you, 
while the stiff kiss of acorns puckers the ground.  

I am a fool. Even as the red impatiens wither and brown, 
they are still lovely. I feed the gaping mouths of lawn bags 

with their remains. All this time I was waiting 
for a heavy bough high above to crush us, 

but really I was waiting for you to say enough. 
It was a feeling that swirled inside me, 

a dark congruence, a tempest of the blood pulsing enough, 
 enough. How I had mistaken it for ordinary happiness. 

I can forgive the wind rustling the aging oaks, 
the clusters of leaf mush trapped along the fence line, 

but with you there is no forgiveness. 
Only refuse. Only the lawn’s dying clover

and weeds masquerading as grass. 
Nothing is ever easy or true,

except the leaves. They all fall.
Dependable as a season. 

More by January Gill O'Neil

Early Memory

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.

The Rookie

America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes

around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,

a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,

tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes

as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,

their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.

The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs

while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…

to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about

what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.

But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,

how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year’s Eve Party 2014

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen, 
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our                         patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.