The Half-said Things · Miriam O'Neal
Miriam O’Neal’s The Half-Said Things is a book both meditatively considerate and bitingly eloquent. These are domestic poems on the edge of wilderness, poems from empty rooms in crowded houses, poems delighting in language and ripe with depth. “So I take my missing with me like a parting / gift of roses” she writes, reflecting lyrically on life and death from a calm, wisely wary place of earned experience, strength and knowing acceptance.
— Stephan Delbos, Poet Laureate of Plymouth, Massachusetts
I plan to stay in bed this morning,
to practice being quiet and alone,
knowing soon the house will fill again
with sounds of you and the dog tramping in.
How long, I wonder, will my contentment last,
before I wish I could avoid the thrum
of silence in these empty rooms,
and listen for your bird-dog chatter?
How long before the idle croon
of solitude devolves to groaning
like a hole augured at noon in a winter lake
then closes shut in winter’s gloaming,
tip-up flag frozen in place – staked
instead of dancing madly at the crappie’s take?
The Wonder Bread Years
How does a child manage without wonder?
As soon ask her to live without bread –
without dreams or longing, without a healthy slice
of imagination given free rein – a thought to please
her, like swinging out across the water on a rope,
then dropping where it’s deepest in spite of fear.
Because what’s the point of swinging if you have no fear?
You can’t capture wonder
if you cling tight and swing back to shore, the rope
marking your clenched fists with burns, your loss like bread
so underproved its density pleases
no one, no matter how it’s sliced.
If you could release your grip and let the water slice
the heat of summer from your skin, could buck your fear
and rocket through the deepest water in the lake, pleased
to feel your heart race at the wonder
of being the kind of kid whose day was bred
of danger met with daring – the girl who could lasso
all the names the boys had called her and lash
her fear down long enough to let go and slice
the surface with her body – if you could ignore the Sunday bread
that made your mother famous, all that doing good a tale you feared
because you saw the prison there – no wonder,
just a litany of saints and angels to pray to asking, Please.
At ten years old the grownups found you pleasing,
but you suspected being pleasing was a rope
wound in a noose to strangle the fun and wander
of running barefoot all through summer – that you might slice
your nose off to spite your face with all that sweetness. Your fear
of being good as bad as your fear of being not good breeding
a shadow that lived inside your shadow, like bread
that came in circus-colored sacks, you were pleased
by its convenience but not its taste, a bread too soft, pasted like fear
to the roof of your mouth, making you wish for a slice
of cold watermelon to help you swallow, or a rope
to swing up and away on, far from the dough
of you about to rise into a girl who always pleases
others. When you think of her you wonder, will she be brave
enough to slice the knot – cast off the rope?
I miss the sweet barista with the gentle eyes
who carried my coffee to me as jewels to a queen –
not subservient or humble. Kind.
As if a queen alone on her throne is a sad situation
and coffee might help, his smile touching her.
I miss the taste of a chocolate coronetto
at the kitchen table of my friend,
who notices the queen’s distraction,
which will turn out to be her reign
over loneliness, a land which rules me.
When my friend speaks my name I come back to this land.
I miss Mamma’s damp hand gripping my arm
as we traverse la scala, her head just above my elbow,
her quavering voice making the opera live,
her firm belief that the queen understands Italian
and the language of the hands.
We must go away to miss things and people.
We must enter a foreign land alone and marry
far away. So I take my missing with me like a parting
gift of roses – their stems covered in thorns,
their intoxicating perfume.
About the Author
Miriam O’Neal is the author of We Start With What We’re Given (Kelsay Books, 2018) and The Body Dialogues (Lily Poetry Review Books, 2020) which was nominated for a Massachusetts Art of the Book Award in 2020. Her poems have appeared in Blackbird Journal, Lily Poetry Review, Nixes Mate Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Solidago Journal, and elsewhere. She has been a Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist in poetry and in the Disquiet International Poetry Competition and the Westport International Poetry Competition as well as being a Pushcart nominee. She is the 2020-2022 Plymouth Poet Laureate Runner Up.
Copyright © 2022 Miriam O’Neal
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