Neighborhood Elegy and The Darkest Place

by Deirdre O'Connor



Neighborhood Elegy


Impossible to say I’ll never forget the woman

across the street sinking to her knees in the yard


all the little flags of memory   



and wailing, I can’t go on, I don’t want to

be alone, while another woman who looked like her


as if it’s easy to be seen


reached through tangled curls to knead her neck—

the way the sister figure stood stiffly bending over her


rooted ministrations


as the woman curled downward, her forehead

on the grass, her whole body shaking


a seizure of time        


and her earthbound cries so loud I heard them

two blocks away. I had lifted my hand to my chest


the third ear closes its eye


as if my own heart had been struck and locked

eyes with the sister for a moment. Her look


the heart attacks


betrayed no judgment of my having seen.

Her face was solemn, or neutral, and she probably


forgotten face


wouldn’t remember she’d seen me stopped

then slowly jogging off, running the whole block


no clock, no loud



before I felt my hand still raised to my chest

as if I were pledging allegiance, the spilling cries


branch to breath


persisting until I passed the high school,

where the last day of classes had started,


brimming cup


and the giant oak out front that had grown over generations

marked the first quarter mile.


amid the rustle, jays




The Darkest Place


We lie down every night without

having seen our kidneys, never gaze


upon our hearts; still,

we sleep well enough. Despite atrophy


here and there, our organs pulse,

a nest of rabbits. Our pinks brown,


streaked with fat.

Given the skull, the brain must be


the darkest place

in the body,


though the mind craves light,

motion, the sensation


of roving while being

contained. Held, fed.


Brain as mother, brain as ocean

rising, falling,


the mind

buoyant inside,


thinking it swims

in regions beyond itself.



Deirdre O’Connor

Deirdre O’Connor is the author of Before the Blue Hour, which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize, and a new book-length manuscript of poems. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, Cave Wall, Guesthouse, Natural Bridge, and other journals. She directs the Writing Center at Bucknell University, where she also serves as Associate Director of the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets.