(from Deciduous by Patrick O’Neill)
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Born in Pontiac, Michigan, Patrick O’Neill grew up and attended high school in Waterford, Michigan, graduated from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, taught English for a few years at Comstock High School, then moved to Ironwood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he teaches writing and literature at Gogebic Community College and writes poems, stories, and plays.
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|Books by Patrick O'Neill are available at March Street Press.|
Yaps - Patrick O'Neill
|Big Kitten Lake
On the map,
Wildcat Lake spills
between contour lines
laced with access roads,
to a county highway,
and fills the corner
of a grid with acres of blue.
In the wilderness,
it’s a sanctuary
for pontoon boats,
high-powered motor boats.
On the map,
an outlet dangles
Big Kitten south of
like a ball of yarn
hooked to the claw
of one elongated bay.
In the wilderness,
Big Kitten plays, hunts alone
in its forest-fortified basin—
repelling boats, motors, people.
Big Kitten clamors
in its solitude,
screeches its freedom.
Here, it’s not a ball of yarn—
a toy on paper.
It’s a miniature Atlas.
It carries the big cat on its back.
How Winter Comes to
the Copper Country
|A Copper Country Miner
Speaks with Christ
Sure I saw him. The day I worked a double.
Southeast Shaft. Division Two. Underneath moles,
underneath worms, underneath corpses.
Almost a mile below the world
of fresh air and snow. I was heading
from Tina’s Pub to Pete’s Place. Still moving
with Ascension’s gift of energy that revitalizes
us miners every time we crawl out. There he was
by Pete’s Place. Standing around. Long hair. Beard.
Shabby, scanty clothing: nothing anyone
who knew anything about Copper Country winters
would wear. Reminded me of a stray dog—
humble, desperate—looking for a place
he could belong to, bewildered he couldn’t find one.
Yeah it was Christ all right. And of all days.
When everyone’s yelling about peace on
Earth, good will t’ward men and screeching
about silent nights and pear trees. Kind of wonder
if he chose that time of year on purpose.
He told me he’d been watching people
trade and invest. All the time calling it giving.
And killing healthy evergreen trees, then
throwing camouflage all over them to
hide the fact they’re trees like his old man intended
for them to be in the beginning. And all
the time using his name to excuse their
damn fool behavior. I asked him into
Pete’s for a beer or wine or something.
But he said he had an appointment. He rolled
his eyes and head skyward. I understood.
Just before he vanished, he looked at me
square with a hounddog smile, shook his head,
and mumbled something about telling his old man
to scuttle the whole fucking thing. Yeah.
Root Zone - Patrick O'Neill
I sit on a large maple stump
with my Uncle Kelly
and watch his words bump
through the cold air
like they’re not in any hurry
to go anywhere
and maybe not certain
where they’re going.
He can’t handle the woods
without a dog any more
than he could handle it
without his Stormy Kromer hat
or Chevy pick up, he tells me.
He’s lived through nine dogs.
on his face circumvolve
his eyes, his nose,
then dive into his beard.
Tree rings, I think.
I try to count them.
But they’re too busy working,
coaxing the words
from somewhere deep inside.
He says nine dogs is enough—no more.
The pain of loss doesn’t run away.
It lies around, feeds on more loss—
gets stronger, more aggressive.
It’s not age that’s driving him
out of the woods, he says.
It’s the attacks of that vicious void.
It’s not wise to throw it another dog.
He can barely survive the frenzied assaults
the ghosts of the first nine have bolstered.
He pats the stump we’re sitting on,
traces some of the rings
with his gloved index finger.
This baby went over
a hundred years, he says.
Brought tears to my eyes
when I had to put it down.
The words halt, begin to come, retreat.
He doesn’t mention his wife or kids.
Trees are tough, he says.
Self-reliant. They don’t need
Kromers or pick ups or—dogs.
Some sequoias, redwoods
stick around for 3,000 years.
Melt Off - Patrick O'Neill
It’s early spring;
the temperature’s in the fifties.
My sister, the botanist,
points to the history
of the crime in the snow.
Prints, blood, and fur
tell the story of the ambush
and the killing
of her three-month-old Irish setter.
They came right into the yard,
she says. She didn’t have a chance.
Coyotes will do that, I say.
She nods, wipes tears from her eyes.
Fucking murderers, she says.
They have to eat, I remind her.
She nods, says, I’m being unfair—
but everything’s so unfair.
Or everything’s so fair, I say.
She cocks her head at me.
Things kill other things, I say.
Suffering prevails. I look
at the gruesome history
in the snow. I say, The planet
snows pain. But like now—
I point to the water running
off the high snow banks
down her driveway—
it melts, goes away.
She shakes her head.
It doesn’t go away; it just—
she points to the running water—
I point to the prints, blood, fur
in the snow. I say,
A few more warm days like this
and all that will be heading
toward Lake Superior.
Yes, but the history lingers, torments.
Until you get another dog, I say.
She almost smiles, wipes her tears.
I think my pets for awhile
will all have roots, she says.
She kicks at the snow.
Everything fades and goes away,
she says. Yet nothing
really fades or goes away.
I make a snowball, think
about what she’s said.
You’re right, I say.
Snow doesn’t go away;
it changes its chemistry,
wipes clean its pages, returns
to record the same flickers
of the planet’s inanities. I throw
the snow ball in the rivulet
in her driveway—
watch it slowly,
join the melt off.
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