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JJ Niland

-For the 15 of us who share genetic matter

Gramma Gertie served tea in Irish porcelain,
The late afternoon sun kissed the white lace sheers—

Painted rosebuds touched our noses over the scent of Earl Grey,

And just a touch of whisky for her.

 

But our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.

 

J.J. Niland and his brother made fine Irish glass.

Not crystal, but solid and sparkling.

Sold at Tiffany’s, luxury for the masses.

Far from County Roscommon.
I imagine he pours my wine.

Sparkling silver and mahgony,

Parlor tapestries hung heavy

Here, daughter of Ireland—

Drink, and know from where you came.

But our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.

 

Father Jimmy shoots whiskey and dances like an Egyptian on the table.

And when the band breaks, he takes my confession—

God, the Father of mercies,

Through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself

Sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins

Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.

Now don’t get caught tossing beer cans, my child.

 

Oh, the extended threads of you all—
We make words, films, music and tea.

We drink wine and whisky.

We have compared fingers and toes—
Separated for years, discovering they are the same.

James Niland, in your factory—
Taking your family across the sea,
Blowing glass, making your art,
White-hot glowing bulbs paved the way for ours.

We are all made of stars and Glenlevit and dreams.
Our corner of heaven will be throwing beer cans at the Puritans.

 

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Expatriate

Minneapolis steam

Photograph by Cynthia Daggett

It’s another kind of homelessness—

This sense of not having a place.

 

Yes, the sheets are clean.

They are not mine.

The towels are fresh, the water hot.

There are dishes and pots that look the same,

But are not.

 

This freedom feels more immediate,

More so than wandering into the dark New England ocean at midnight,

After too much champagne—

Or dashing through airports across North America,

Rushing toward the next thrill.

 

This life has made me restless and insecure.

I’ve learned that the old tangible things are replaceable—

And not to hold on to things, or people.

 

I have learned.

 

The world doesn’t end when things don’t go as you plan.

When you’re alone,

In a strange large city,

The streets unknown,

The buildings billowing steam

Into the vast horizon, you realize—

 

The most powerful person in the room

Has the most power over you.

 

You can say otherwise.

 

Mojo Boots

mojo boots

Yesterday, I got me some mojo boots.

Leopard print, with a bad-ass heel.

They have soles that don’t slip in the Minnesota snow.

 

Score.

 

I walk a little prouder,

Talk a little louder—

Me, and my mojo boots.

 

My boyfriend says Lieutenant Uhuru had a similar pair on Star Trek—

Except hers were black, not leopard.

 

I will conquer the world in my mojo boots.

That new job will be mine—

My life will be fine.

I am almost 54, but that does not matter.

I got me some mojo boots.

 

I won’t be worrying about money,

Shopping at the dollar store.

I will have someone to clean my floors.

 

I will slide into middle age.

Unbridled.

Unabashed.

Unashamed.

Unafraid.

 

Best part?

Sears is going out of business and I got my mojo online for 15 bucks.

 

 

Pariah

pariah

 

Low born,

Low caste, low class.

 

I appear better from afar—

I am all scars up close.

 

My songs, the hypnotic pulse of my kinai drums,

My magic sustained the king.

He used it, transformed it into his own power.

He called me from my forest nightly,

If you must know.

 

He took and took, but never touched the sapphire center of my soul.

After, I find my way home to the hamlet,

Sing by the crackling fire—

For the weavers, poets, goldsmiths and cobblers.

They feed me warm soup in a rough pewter bowl.

 

I am Pariah—

Disinherited daughter of the earth,

I am an untouchable, but not in the way you think.

 

 

 

She Will Not Be Missed

zelda

-For Zelda Fitzgerald

 

Hothouse orchid, an ingenue expired past her time,

A flourescent idea that outlived itself—

Clothing a bit too tight, makeup too bright in daylight.

 

She was a third-rate writer,

A third-rate ballet dancer.

She was a shitty mother, and an unfaithful wife

Until she took back her life—

And blew the greenhouse windows open wide.

 

On Saturday, she passed away,

Smoke clogging the asylum, the sprinklers awry.

She will face final judgment.

 

As if she wasn’t judged enough—

While she exhaled curled spirals of cigarette smoke,

And laughed a little too loudly for everyone’s comfort.

 

As if she didn’t explode every bridge

She clicked across in stiff $300 shoes—

It wasn’t her fault.

 

Her laughter still cascades through the spray of marble fountains.

Over the crackled static of jazz

Under the watchful eyes of stern gargoyles.

The life cut short, but brilliant to see,

Dancing the last waltz in dreams.

Boys Will Be Boys

schs

I saw what I saw.

And I heard what I heard.

 

If you don’t like the truth,

You can always ignore or bully me.

That was always your modus operandi.

You girl, you will comply and agree.

 

But I saw it.

I saw you.

 

It was Halloween dress up day for school—

Wear a costume,

Pay 50 cents, the money goes to charity.

 

I saw a dozen Irish Catholic boys, dressed in white sheets and hoods.

Chasing their African American teammate down the hall.

 

Rodney, he was dressed as a sharecropper.

Then there was fire.

A lit cross.

I saw it implode.

 

But no one was suspended, or benched—

After all, boys will be boys.

And our football boys were the best in the state.

Can’t jeopardize that, can we?

 

I could have said something.

But I didn’t.

I was afraid.

Who was I to bring down the jock aristocracy?

Who was I to challenge the cheerleaders,

And the alumni donors?

 

Two of my best friends slept with football players at a keg party,

And spent two more years being ridiculed.

They wanted to fit in, be loved.

I bet their names are still in sharpie marker

On the bathroom wall, 30 years later.

 

My gay friend,

He got a perm and was stuffed in his own locker

All, in a 48-hour period.

He relented, let his hair go straight

And went to Brooks Brothers.

 

Boys will be boys.

Sweaty and hormonal,

Cruel pack.

This absence of decency

Obscene.

 

Rape culture.

Obscene.

 

 

Joyride

loop the loop

 

I’ve flown before, but never been the pilot.

 

Wedged into a small economy-class seat,

Eating tiny bags of salty peanuts,

Anesthetized from small plastic bottles of chardonnay in a plastic cup—

I regarded the clouds with indifference,

While the men in the cockpit dictated my safe ascent, and descent.

 

After three glasses of wine it hits me—

Cockpit.

A sealed control room of men.

I laugh sadly.

Don’t they let women fly?

 

I didn’t know what to expect when I boarded the plane.

I’ve flown before but never been the pilot.

 

It was time—

They didn’t see it coming.

It was wrong.

I knew it was wrong,

But I did it anyway.

 

It was easier than I thought.

I became a hijacker.

Once you cross that line,

There’s no changing your mind.

 

I didn’t know what to expect when I boarded the plane.

I’ve flown before but now I am the pilot.

 

I got that bird’s nose up,

Gasping at the exhilaration of the speed, the sudden lift.

I was not afraid of you, or them, or anyone—

Not even when they scrambled the fighter jets,

Not even when the air traffic controller tried to talk me down.

I swirled and circled,

Did loop the loops and barrel rolls.

 

Ladies, gentlemen, this is not an air show.

This is the real deal.

 

There were a lot of people that cared for me—

It’s going to disappoint them.

I apologize,

But I’m just a broken girl.

Got a few screws loose, I guess.

Never really knew it until now.

 

The fuel and the funds will run low,

But I recite poems aloud.

And know

The flight recorder captures every word.

 

They will be found.

Smoking, hissing, crackling,

Rising through the sunlit leaves—

Amidst the smoldering wreckage of my joyride.