Suzanne O'Connell


Down past the crumb coat,
down past the primer,
down past the stained nude nightgown,
down the old wooden ladder,
down to the sparks,
down even below the sparks,
down to where the rain collects
in the cold basement,
down past the kitten in the corner
with ringworm.
Turn left at the first gray room.
Turn left again past the cluttered bedroom.
There, there in the kitchen,
with the mellow light shining down
on the table covered with a plaid oilcloth,
you will find a little girl
sitting with her grandmother.
They are slicing dates,
inserting a walnut in each one,
and rolling them in sugar.


Was there a cry when I was born?
Not from you, of course.
I meant from me.
Was there
a healthy lung cleansing?
A howl or two?
Was there a cry declaring my arrival
on the new moon?
The moon where I pitched my flag
as I washed up
on the shore of you?
Was there a cry as I slid
into home plate?
Was I safe or out?
Was there a cry to celebrate
my long journey
from the nethers
to the new homeland?
Was there a cry
from that bed
at Mercy Hospital?
Or did I wait,
even then,
to see what you expected?


“Those hot pants!” he said the night we met.
I stood there in the perfect silence of the lowlands,
looking at his slick teeth.
The flaps of grass were humming
as they waited for the fertility of spring.
I was a fool
to be entertaining thoughts
about a so-called deranged man
wearing a skeleton suit.
My grandma warned me about men
like him.
In the flaps of grass,
my pointy shoes aimed skyward
as the stars were strained through cheesecloth.
A scalpel had shaved his neck raw.
He smelled like pork rinds
and church candles
and Betty Crocker.
We lay in the field,
being eaten alive
by bitey-bugs,
down there
where the hot pants
used to go.


We lay on his bed,
looking at the planets
he had glued to the ceiling.
“I have some really important stuff
never to tell you, I said.
“Secrets can be alive
or dead,” he said,
“or just asleep.”
I had hoped he would care enough
to probe a little for my secrets.
There was silence as I took in
the spicy smell
of his pet lizard.
On the bed with us were dirty socks,
wrinkled shirts,
and unopened mail.
“Your cat seems very healthy,” I said.


Tomorrow I will be on my way to meet my bride.
The one my parents chose for me.
The one I have never met.
The one I have never even seen
except in a blurry photograph.
In the meantime,
I’m working on my surfboard
in the backyard of our house in
Torrance, California.
The summer sun is beating down hard
on my bare back and arms.
I’m barefoot and wearing my orange surfing shorts
the ones with the Hawaiian flower print.
Fall will be here soon and it is
rustling around the edges of the yard
like a whispered secret.
I’m applying the small squares of
fiberglass fabric
to the dings on the board.
After that, I will cover each one with resin
and sand the patches smooth.
The last step will be to apply the wax.
I’ll never forget the smell of the wax
when it’s mixed with salt from the ocean
and baked by the summer sun.
While I’m sanding, I glance around the yard
so I can remember everything.
The garage door I painted green with my dad.
The cracks in the driveway.
The gap in the tree where the rotten limb
I was climbing on broke away.
Saber’s squeaky dog toy lying in the grass.
My bedroom window with the view of the lemon tree.
Once I get to Bangalore
and marry the stranger,
I plan on removing the heavy red and gold wedding garments,
the jewelry,
and the makeup.
I will change
into my orange surfing shorts
and flip-flops.
I will walk over to Ulsoor Lake,
the only body of water in Bangalore.
There I will sit under a tree by the side of the lake
and sing all the songs I know
by the Beach Boys.

Copyright  ©  2014 Suzanne O'Connell
Suzanne O'Connell earned her master’s degree in social work from the UCLA School of Social Welfare and currently works as a licensed clinical social worker. She attended several writing courses at UCLA and is currently a student of Jack Grapes’s advanced method writing group. She has also studied with Richard Jones, Lynn Hightower, Barbara Abercrombie, and Liz Gonzalez. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Foliate Oak, The G.W. Review, Organs of Visions and Speech Magazine, Permafrost, The Round, Sanskrit, The Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Talking River, and Willow Review.

She volunteers with the American Red Cross and was presented with the Candlelight Award as the District Mental Health Volunteer of the Year. She has assisted in recovery during fifty-six disasters, including floods, fires, building collapses, train derailments, and the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.