Emily O'Neill

self-portrait, trust fall

I am so unkind to my body          bleeding
it of meaning

                            meat in the freezer until
             it's plated / I am so unkind          bleeding
when you're inside me
                                                        though it isn't that time yet
& I never trust rushing until it happens

I ask you, I'm asking

I asked you
fingernail questions

              what to do with the ash of the year

I'm asking          a little blood falling out          you say
            Austin isn't so far                                        you say
                           we could fly directly                   you say
what burrata is as if I've never eaten               you say
               it's too soon to say it back /

                                                           I won't             take it away
                             or make it easier

                                                                         bleeding often stops itself

just hold the wound above your heart /
                                                                                          there's still a scar

              from where I carved one of my fingers open

                            slicing a bagel for my brother, a chicken pock

                                          moon on my belly, 3 tiny burns fading, crater

                                                         on my cheek, many stories of being told

                                                                       where & how to keep my body

you don't participate except to say they were all incorrect instructions

you crawl across the bed to hold me around the waist, to keep me

                             I whisper into your armpit so I can say it without you hearing
               I kiss the words
                                                         into your black shirts until they stain

I am so unkind
              to myself

                                             "expectations of any kind are always
                                              premeditated resentments" Charmaine Wheatley

so says the glass case at the museum you bought a membership for
so says the woman who draws her friends in clouds of speech
so says the frame the painting was cut out of in the heist

                              the frames still hanging

             the absence as important as what could or did
                            live there                                            you say
we'll make it in time to watch it ending              you say
you're just happy I'm here                                       you say
the word is too hard to get to /

                                                                        come by it honestly
                                             from another direction


instead of a dozen roses you buy me four instead of pulling away
you fall back asleep say it's too soon to know what blood means
say sperm live up to 36 hours because they have to say you told
your dad about me & he said everyone should wear name tags
& then wanted to know if we were celebrating & it wasn't meant
to be this fast but I'm too fond of momentum not to cry out when
my voice bubbles up to the top of my throat again your roommate
hates me for being so loud I'm sorry I'm bleeding I hope it isn't
an expensive problem absence is as important as expectation I'm
expected to give up drinking I'm buying luggage for a trip as yet
unplanned if we go to San Francisco what kind of lie will we tell
so as to maintain an effective smoke screen I'm kidding I swear it
I'll go to the doctor who'll tell me to quit smoking wear loose jeans
divest from stress the blood a little anxious flag I made for us to wave


                                                                         I'm so unkind to myself
                                                        when it comes to risk
you say it without saying it
you say it without saying it
you say it standing over the stove while I read to you
                             this          not a reflection of inability

                                                             I can't ask you
                              to come with me            unless I do
I can't ask you                 to wait for me                  unless you would
               I can't ask you                what you're thinking
                             unless I know the answer          cold


a falling knife has no handle

you're supposed to take the blade & say yes / to save agave
from extinction by drinking more distillate / lost in the desert
I would forget eating / would eat without tasting

drink without / pausing to pull air through liquor
forget where I'm swollen / apologize for your kindness
grating me open moments I don't expect to bleed

how in the world is melting possible / El Maestro
in tiny glasses tasting like every fruit & mushroom
ever plated / loud Olivia is drunk / loud Olivia, drunk

made of hands / insisting love is unable to survive
carried by just one person's fingers / we're too warm & the opposite
of her conviction / I hug Sam on the street & wait for you to ask

why I'd locket another man to my chest
when the question doesn't come / I wonder what apart resembles
is it consistent / does a falling knife have no handle

build me a better house for burning / a place we can walk away from
without some masked disaster / don't let Olivia be right
about sharpened stones, the acidity of success

I forget what meals are meant for when
you're not settled starboard / dinnertime
I'm a ship sliding through momentary inlet / strange

without my anchor / without navy strength gin or knowing
what ti punch is until it scuttles me / when the blade falls
do not reach for it / the fall, a flaw we'll both forget

Emily O'Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books' Pamet River Prize for women and nonbinary writers and the winner of the 2016 Devil's Kitchen Reading Series. She is also the author of three chapbooks: Celeris (Fog Machine), You Can't Pick Your Genre (Jellyfish Highway), and Make a Fist & Tongue the Knuckles (Nostrovia! Press). She teaches writing and tends bar in Boston, MA.