October 6-12, 2014: Suzanne O’Connell and Brian Wood

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Suzanne O’Connell and Brian Wood

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Suzanne O’Connell
suzanneoconnell@ca.rr.com

Bio (auto)

Suzanne O’Connell lives in Los Angeles where she is a poet and a clinical social worker. Her work can be found in Forge, Atlanta Review, Blue Lake Review, G.W. Review, Reed Magazine, Permafrost, Mas Tequila Review, The Round, The Griffin, Sanskrit, Foliate Oak, Talking River, Organs of Vision and Speech Literary Magazine, Willow Review, The Tower Journal, Thin Air Magazine, Fre&d, The Manhattanville Review, poeticdiversity, The Evansville Review, Serving House Journal, Silver Birch Press, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Licking River Review. She was a recipient of Willow Review’s annual award for 2014 for the poem Purple Summers. She is a member of Jack Grapes’ L.A. Poets and Writers Collective.

The following work is Copyright © 2014, and owned by Suzanne O’Connell and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Awaiting Takeoff

His mind was as cramped as a cough
in a symphony orchestra.
Since Sylvia died, he avoided leaving his house.
Danger seemed to be crouching
behind every building and inside every person.
Flying was at the top of his danger list.
Mechanical problems, shoe bombers,
the forced landing in the Hudson River…
If it wasn’t for his mother’s broken hip,
he would not sitting here
in row 27, seat B,
on his way to New Jersey.

Worry twisted in his brain.
The plane was sitting far too long on the tarmac.
His palms were sweating and his
stomach was filled with swamp gas
from the airport tuna sandwich.

He opened the Hemispheres magazine,
turning to the diagram
of the evacuation slide
and the instructions for using
the life vest (under his seat)
and the oxygen mask (in the ceiling over his head.)
He slid the magazine back in the seat pocket.

He closed his eyes and practiced
the slow breathing his hypnotist had taught him.
Slow breath in. Hold. Forceful breath out.

He tried to imagine himself as a tree,
a big sturdy one, with thick bark
and long roots.
He imagined the long roots reaching
down from the plane,
traveling across the tarmac,
turning left down Imperial Blvd.,
turning the corner at Jefferson by the train,
and going straight up Fairfax
to his house.
There the roots would open the front door,
and go down the hall lined with photos of
he and Sylvia over the years.
In the bedroom.
the roots would crawl into his bed,
the one he and Sylvia shared,
pull the comforter over his rooty head,
and feel safe again.


The Rain Vacation

The language of water isn’t spoken in these parts anymore.

The girl dreamed of what she had never seen—
drops falling from the sky,
trickles running down windowpanes,
beads hanging from branches like silver ornaments.
She dreamed of puddles,
and splashing in them in high boots.
She dreamed of water in gutters
and even of cars floating down the street.
She wanted to wear a raincoat and dreamed
of what she had seen in movies,
like Singing In the Rain, starring Gene Kelley.

Her parents remembered the rain
and wanted her to know it too.
So they took a rain vacation at a theme park:
Yellow slickers,
High boots,
Deep puddles,
Misting of water,
The Hurricane ride,
Salt water taffy,
The Soaker.
Water bagels.

The adults felt sad as they walked around the park.
Something they had taken for granted when they grew up,
something as ordinary as rain,
had vanished.
As they walked around the artificial place,
where you bought a ticket
for the tanks, hoses, and faucets,
they kept their sadness to themselves
because the children were squealing
and petting the water
like it was an extinct animal.


This is a Poem Holding Its Breath

This is my foot on Billy’s floor.
This is the rosemary sprig I stole from the bush
because smelling it prevents Alzheimers.
This is the poem I tried to find on the train.

This is Lloyd’s nose on my pants
and this is the smudge he leaves.
This is a picture of dad and me in Maui.
I’m wearing a black bathing suit
and Dad is wearing a straw hat.
This is Spongebob on TV.
This is Liverpool kicking the ball across the grass.
This is cheese and crackers on a plate I remember.
This is sliced tomatoes from the yard.
This is a blank where I forget the words.
This is me smelling the rosemary again.

What happened to dad’s straw hat?
What happened to it when we cleaned out his house?
I hope someone is wearing it in Maui,
watching the sunset like we used to do.
Or maybe someone
will find his hat when they clean out my house?

 

 

 


Brian Wood
brianjwood@gmail.com

Bio (auto)

Brian Wood was born in 1970 and attended the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto, receiving a Master’s degree in English in 1994 after putting his professors through hell. After graduating he moved to Vancouver where he worked for Coles and then Indigo. In 2006, he became a literary agent, representing such people as Bob McKenzie, Al Strachan, Brian Kilrea, and James Duthie. He married his publicist, Rachel Sentes, in July 2013. His first book of poems, Winter Walk, was published by Sakura Publishing in November, 2013.

The following work is Copyright © 2014, and owned by Brian Wood and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Tongues on Fire

Hotter than it should be in May, the air
Just not circulating today, here, on
Sunday morning, around 11. So
When our pastor announces he’s asked Jack
To turn the fans on, there is much relief.
A little later, he says “I’d like you
To stand with me, please, & sing O For A
Thousand Tongues. Number 46." It takes
A few seconds for us to stand up, look
For the hymnals, find the page & wait for
 
The cue. His wife, also the organist,
Flips towards the very end of her much
Bigger hymnal, nods, & we begin. Some 
Of us can sing & some of us can’t, but
In a group so close, who cares? We have been
Through this hymn so many times the words, though
They should shock, do not. “He breaks the power
Of cancell’d sin, he sets the prisoner free.”
When we finish, before our pastor can
Even say “Please be seated,” one of us
 
Over in the fourth row, not sitting down
Yet, begins to speak aloud, urgently,
Words tumbling, spilling out, a warning. For
Half a minute, in a message we can’t
Quite make out, he tells of an upcoming
Judgement, a doom we won’t escape, the weight
Of our sin is that heavy. After he
Speaks a long, strained silence.  And then from a
Few rows away, someone else cannot stop
Himself: “O my people. O my people.
 
How you have sinned. How you have broken my
Heart. I came for you, died for you. You do
Not seek my face. You love the dark.  A great,
Terrible fire is coming & you will
Not be spared. Seek my face. O my people.”
No one dares to cough or find that second  
Piece of gum.  For all of us now, hell is
No dreamer’s abstraction, but a real place
We’d chosen; & then we’d finally see
What divine & perfect justice looked like.
  
Did we hear a living, breathing God that
Day?—Or were we just talking to ourselves?
Was there prophecy that morning, or was
It just drama, by people who knew their
Parts? Was there a case it didn’t matter?
Man has made hells Lucifer could only
Stagger at. And there are some who live in
Heaven, saved or no, since for them each day
Means another chance to serve, to help, to
Work, to bring light where before there was none.
 
After the service, it’s much different
Out in the foyer, as we catch up on
Our news & light gossip. He who spoke in
Tongues now smiling, laughing with his friend, &
He who interpreted setting up a
Golf game for later in the week. These were
Good people I was lucky to know. So
Who was the real man? The one inside, who’d
Been set ablaze by the holy ghost, tears
Not stopping? Or the one who shook my hand
 
Outside, near the trees on the lot, kindly
Smiled at my inane jokes, & told me how
Gorgeous it was today, nothing better
Than halfway through spring? Could you ever get
A good empirical answer to that
Question? Each to each. Certainly it was
True that Ottawa in May felt like a
Heaven below, & staring at those skies,
You might wonder if just to be alive
Should have you forever leaping for joy.