Maureen O’Connor

May 14, 2020

“I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?”

This quote by Emily Dickinson topped the short bio Maureen O’Connor provided me for this posting. Why is she “nobody?” Well, she just isn’t. There are so many good poets in the world whose work rarely or never sees the light of day. Buffalo poet, O’Connor, may be one of them simply because she has chosen not to spend time submitting her work for publication. Fortunately for me, I heard her read before the Big Bug hit the world and asked her to send me some poems to include on WordTemple.

O’Connor’s first poem was published in a Kenmore/Tonawanda schools anthology when she was 11 years old. Two other poems were published in anthologies in the 1990s and now, after retiring from the US Customs Service in the port of Buffalo after 35 years of hard work, she is back to writing. Yay!

In speaking of her writing practice, she says: I have no writing practice or discipline, no sacred place dedicated to writing. Sometimes I wake up with lines wanting a poem. Words, phrases, occasionally whole thoughts materialize from the silences in life. If I’m lucky, they are captured. If I’m really lucky, they become poems.

“I don’t write about politics, although I’m political. I don’t write about current events. World events need time to be digested, and distance for perspective because of their significance can pale and fade. Unless something timeless in them can be teased out and applied universally. Personal events, though, often need therapy or even just require sharing, which writing can provide. Road trips, family (good, bad, ugly), dreams, health, aging, memories. If my therapy or sharing resonates with another, then I am pleased. Other than that, I just write, now and then, because the words say I must.”

Here are two poems by Maureen O’Connor. Please feel free to post comments after reading them.

.

Maidenhead Revised: A Hyman Hymn

.

Much of history depended on

a thin veil of skin

whether or not penetrated

by the sanctioned member

at the appointed time and place

.

Treaties were made of it

Nations rose from it

provided the bride’s blood

spotted the wedding night’s sheets

.

The terrible mystery women bear

because we carry

our sex deep within

not dangling precariously

out of control

.

Science doesn’t know what the hymen’s for

Evolutionary vestige

from before we stood upright

our sex more exposed

to each other

to the elements

to the earth

Perhaps

.

Medicine tells us

it’s no proof of virginity

as culture and religion assert

We should mourn the girls

banished or killed

for their fathers’ honor

for lacking purity’s proof

.

I never lost my virginity

as if it were a thing to lose

or a thing to hold

like breath, or spite

.

I knew exactly where it was

would not hold it like breath

and turn blue

in defiance of nature

Unlike the onset of my fertility

this I had control over

so

.

I welcomed the warm entrance

trusting the impossibly green eyes

my fists full of his long dark hair

this musician, bass player

with knowledge and rhythm

in his finger tips

.

I saw the silent fireworks

moved to their bursting

celebrating what bodies

together do

what minds together know

.

I regret nothing except

not keeping the love poems

he left layered among my

bras and panties in their drawer

and tucked into the toes

of the shoes on my closet floor

.

I sometimes regret

when wistfulness overcomes

not going to New Zealand with him

where we’d be well paid

to raise children and sheep

I didn’t mind the idea of

moving, or even the sheep

it was the children

that long ago paused

and corrected me

.

a small regret

a larger gratitude

.

.

Mennonites on the Beach

.

Some things need to go together

This piece was three in my head

now like the trinity, it is one

It’s what happens when you write

in your mind while driving through

the hills and curves of Appalachia

.

You pass one church town

wonder if diversity to them

is at least two churches

of different denominations

and what if one is Catholic

or even a Temple

.

You watch clouds ahead

some not so subtle in their dress grays

scraping hill tops

breaking open blisters of rain

You pull over at the rest stop

take their picture, then drive on

.

You see the literal light

at the end of the tunnel

through that mountain in Pennsylvania

worrying about the truck

tailgating you on its way

to a Home Depot somewhere

.

You turn off satellite radio

even though you can get Public Radio

and BBC News the entire trip

don’t even play the CDs

carefully selected as traveling soundtrack

because road noise gives a

rhythm to your thoughts

.

You think about your body

that it says No to your mind

so often lately, so loudly

wondering how many

trips like this

you’ll be able to make

.

You think about serial killers

all truck drivers are suspect

You never thought about

serial killing truck drivers

when you were younger

not that you’re afraid now

just that you never

gave thought to fear then

.

You think about the Mennonites on the beach

you’d seen them there last time at Cape May

Men sporting male privilege

in jeans and checked short-sleeved shirts

Women plain, modest in ankle length

pastel dresses, sheer caps

over their bound up hair

.

Even the little girls, in long dresses

calf-deep in the ocean

their boy counterparts in shorts and Ts.

You think of how those skirts

would weigh them down to the depths

Ophelias with braids down their backs

.

You know Modesty lights in the eyes

of those tempted, unable or unwilling

to curb their primal urges

in the feminine presence

.

You shake your fist figuratively

at the clear sky, intake sharply

the salted air each wave deposits

on the shore, dig your toes

into the sand centuries built up

.

You want to ask them

Am I not modest in jeans

and T-shirt, size large

Hair free to knot and snarl

in this off-shore wind

Am I not plain enough

in my freedom

then you remember

you are old

past being tempting

or tempted

.

You watch those little girls and boys

grab plastic pails and shovels

dig into wet sand

build castles

.

You watch the jean and checked shirt

men fly kites in the same wind

that whips your hair

.

You hear the women laugh

with each other, the same way

you laugh with women friends

recognizing the confidences

.

You re-mind yourself

talk unflinchingly to your bad self by name

“O’Connor

shut up you judgmental bitch,

everyone enjoys a day at the beach”

.

You think more on it

that we’re really all turtle hatchlings

making our separate ways

over the sands, dodging hungry birds

to our first homes in the sea.

.

Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "Lovely...it's your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

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