Narcissi in January
January in the cold, snowless yard.
January, bottom of the temperature curve.
January, the opposite of July.
A hawk circles the treetops while
a January wind rustles dead leaves
from the great oaks. Noonday sun bright
and diffuse as time. The syntax of strange,
lonely hours. How deep, how often have I
been touched? The knowledge of not enough
crunches like ice in my mouth. January,
from Janus, the Roman god of doorways,
marker of beginnings and endings,
of war and peace. Hard to love.
Two-faced, the coldest month of the year.
January, the first Narcissi are breaking
the surface. Green spring stalks bob
their bright white heads, sway in the air—
my name attached to each one.
*The line “How deep, how often have I been touched” is from Terrance Hayes’ poem “Wind in a Box.”
I miss the way you’d text me at four a.m., “You up?,” and read me a poem. Usually a Jack Gilbert but sometimes one of mine, as if you were holding a mirror up to my life with the best lighting. I know a woman who makes heaven out of her body, and I’d almost believe those words were yours. And sometimes I would wake to the sensation of your chest pressing into my back, how your hand journeyed from belly to breast in one graceful glide. Our luminous, complicated joy, the way it traveled and faded. Sometimes there is only dark and the familiar place of my body. There were nights so simple it was if the stars came down to sit with us, not saying a word. Whatever is sealed between us, memory holds it in place. When I can’t sleep, I exhaust myself by looking into the blue night. That star I’m seeing is the light that left a long time ago.
Note: The line, “There were nights so simple it was if the stars came down to sit with us, not saying a word.” Is from “Parable of a Marriage” by Sean Thomas Dougherty
January Gill O’Neil is the author of Rewilding (fall 2018), Misery Islands (2014), and Underlife (2009), published by CavanKerry Press. Rewilding was recognized by Mass Center for the Book as a notable poetry collection for 2018. January is an associate professor of English at Salem State University, and boards of trustees member with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Montserrat College of Art. From 2012-2018, she served as executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. A Cave Canem fellow, January’s poems and articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Ecotone, among others. In 2018, January was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and was the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence for 2019-2020 at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. She lives with her two children in Beverly, Massachusetts.