Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Angela O'Donnell


Our Mother at the Nursing Home

She smiles and says No Teeth!
for the 13th time.

A daughter trims her hair
and paints her 10 fingernails.

A daughter hangs 2 fresh
dresses in the half-closet.

A granddaughter lines white
dominoes beside her untouched lunch.

I read the Get Well cards aloud
for the 13th time.

Four women fussing over a Fifth-
The One who started the fire
we tend in this linoleum-cold room.

Like the women who entered the garden
bearing spices beneath their robes

chatting of children and chores to be done
when they found the tomb

empty, The One they were seeking, gone.
She, too, is moving on.

And here we stand,
jars of spices in our hands.



Watching Dirty Dancing with My Mother


in the sad sleep of the nursing home,
we are both surprised by beauty alone,

by Jennifer's new-found ecstasy,
the passion of young Patrick Swayze

as he glides her across the bare wood,
lifts her high towards the old god of girlhood

and sets her down, sure of her charm
each step beyond his circling arms.

Nothing can soothe her father's frown
seeing his daughter as someone now,

no more the child she cannot stay.
Patrick, too, has since passed away.

None of us the beauty we used to be,
my mother, those dancers, me.



De-mentia

This trope a backwards living.
Such signage eases grace.
Un-becoming what you've been.
The falling of the face

it took decades to grow into.
It takes knowing who you are
before you start forgetting
what you've come here for.

The letting go a talent.
The carelessness a skill.
You'll never miss your self.
The others will.



I left the moon believing


she'd be there when I came
back, wanting what
she had to offer me.

She waited, hooked in the crook
of my windowpane, for half
the holy night, wondering.

(And, truly, what is more lonely
than the gibbous moon?)

But I love things too much
to give myself to one,
though the brightest a dark heart could ask.

I'm coming, my mother, my sister, my friend.
Though I am slow
don't go.



Cooking with My Mother


A bulb of garlic, chopped.
Two cups of plum tomatoes.
Olive oil, spitting hot.
A sheaf of basil leaf.

And your sure hands
opening big cans
mine are too small to hold.

Your face is young,
a smile not far away.
I'm lucky today.

No hurry for supper.
I can crush tomatoes,
stir in the thick paste,
savor the taste

I'll never know again
beside you there, then.




Northern Nights


"What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?"
-Robert Hayden


None of us could sleep those coal-black nights.
The furnace coughed deep in the cellar
until our father rose in the iron cold
his footsteps sounding loud through the quiet
house, five of us huddled tight in two beds.

We'd hear the turn of the handle, the chunk
and swing of the metal door unhinged,
the steady thrust of the rusty shovel
graveling against the binful of coal.
We'd hear him hoping in the dark for fire.

Then the sluff of slippers across the kitchen,
the oven door opening and the match,
and soon my mother's voice echoing
up the steep stairs to our attic room
calling us to hot milk at midnight,

to slip on coats and scarves and hats and gloves,
to sit in the circle around the stove
bound together in blankets, two by three,
to watch each other's heavy heads drowse
in the orange glow of that blue flame.

While our father cursed the furnace man below,
the smell of sulfur rising through the house,
as our mother worried wordless on the stairs,
we moved closer, wove our circle tight
against the cold that claimed them in the dark.