Poems: Emily O’Neill

These Kids Today

Certain physical responses
can be bred out of the body
over time: your gag reflex, the impulse towards
morality. All left behind if you know how
to try. Carve yourself down
to your worst impulse.
Do you want to kill
or do you like to watch?
How many times can you lie
knowing every time’s an ending?
The past is over, the future narrowing
to a hair’s breadth. They’ve studied the brain
& called it incomplete until long after high school.
We still have time to survive
our worst selves. When you’re raised
in a forest of serrated teeth
weakness becomes a victory
for anyone who isn’t you.
When you’re raised on the blood
of stones, you convince yourself
how rare it is to survive anything.
What a prize you become for suffering.
Escape the killer & you’re immortalized.
Cursed or blessed, but who cares?
Fame is fame. Even when it’s built of bone.
Even when you’re the thing they’d burn
to put the nightmare to bed.

You See What You Do to me

If a boy asks you to smile when he’s smiling
you do it. At least when you’re young, it’s benign
to cooperate with kindness. You kiss him because
his mouth is already wet & open. You’re somebody
once somebody lets you sing to the radio, once weather
won’t come up ever again. Do your homework. A sad boy
wouldn’t be your fault, but someone might think so.
If you let him close, leave the lights on. If you open
windows, he’ll treat them like doors. Any mode of ingress
does fine. You’re fine. Your refusals are fine. He isn’t trying
to argue a point when he pushes hems aside. Sit here. Stay
here. Say nothing. You asked him inside. Stop pushing
his hands away from your face. If he’s smiling he sees you
doing it too. Don’t you trust where you’ve laid your trust?
Stay here. Kiss him kinder. Do your homework. A boy
biting your lip can teach you everything. Give, Take. How
not to cry out. How to leave your skin where he asks you to.
How to walk away without being seen. Watch how practiced
you are, letting him practice desire on your disinterest.
There’s power here. Look away. He’s still looking at you, wanting
refusal so he can push until the win. You’re someone so long
as he wants you to be. He’s someone so long as you let him
have what he won’t ask for. Make him feel like he stole it.
Know the acceptable speed to undress never existed.
Better to wake up naked & stay that way. Your body
wet & open. The radio clouded with weather. Forecast
coming through (half static)—sun only if he says so.
Or so he thinks. You let him think it all he wants.

Troy Fell

Sorry I forgot
your boyfriend’s name
this time is Derek. I heard

Troy, because of the fraternity
rush. Blame afterthought
& your casting as Cassandra.

Right about every vanished glory.
The prize you win is suffering.
How dead will the world grow

around you? Who wears the love
scars? Billy & Randy & now
Derek/Troy falling asleep

through the burn of bullet
to the chest. Bound to a prop
star so you could call him

constellation if he were brighter
but he isn’t bright enough to live
beyond living so he doesn’t.

How dead was the world when
you looked into the future? No glory
or justice for how love expires

every time you think you have it
in hand. I think I love you
so fear feels secondary to apologizing

for invocation of a tragic spectacle. War
takes us away from ourselves until
we become unrecognizable.

We make choices between horrors
in hopes we pick what stings least.
You black cat of the zodiac.

You didn’t fell Troy by crossing his path.
You aren’t the horse murder climbs inside.
You tried to warn the fool away. He chose

on his own not to believe.

Should’ve Been Me

& it feels like it’s my body every time

Sidney sprints up a flight of stairs or slams a door.

I used to answer phones for a living but what I really mean is

I would read the caller ID & make decisions based on

cost/benefit analysis. Is this urgent or can it wait? Am I dying or

is discomfort more of a long game? I see men & strings & reach

for pinking shears. Let me sever them all so they won’t unravel

or spill towards me. I see you, Kevin. See how much you like windows

or any barrier that keeps you out without banning you. I threw rocks

at night because you told me to. I threw rocks at the boy I loved

& he threw them back & it wasn’t cute like you promised on the creek.

Nobody mentions the mean streak it takes to plow into love.

We only get floral verse & neck breath, no instructions. We only get

a girl robbed of happy endings because she’s too good at protecting her blood.

Is she flying or is there no magic left for lost women? I see you Wes, invading

our home with wrist roses. I don’t want to die before loving

my own escape breathlessly. Sidney screams & my eyes pebble & drop

down her throat to safety. We see you flooding the exits so we float.
Emily O’Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her recent poems and stories can be found in inter|rupture, Powder Keg, and Tinderbox, among others. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize. She teaches writing at the Boston Center for Adult Education and edits poetry for Wyvern Lit.

All these poems are from a chapbook about the Scream movies that will be coming out some time next year.

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