Suzanne O’Connell



Part of me hoped the driver would get away.
I admired his determination.
He kept going even though
the spike strip popped all his tires.
I know what it’s like to need to escape.

His black car sped
through the glittering L.A. streets,
metal rims on asphalt
blowing a trail of sparks behind him
into the darkness.

It reminded me of the shoes
I bought for my first job.
Black kitten heels, my only shoes,
except for white sneakers.
I wore those black shoes to work every day
where I was granted a top secret clearance.
I printed classified documents
on a Xerox machine bigger than a car.
My neighbors were interviewed by an FBI agent
who asked if the 18-year-old girl
who resided at 1040 Euclid Street
could be trusted with the security of the nation.

I learned about other classified information too,
like my boss’ affair with our big boss.
Both were married.
Both ordered me to make excuses
for their long lunches,
for their loud arguments.

I Xeroxed and lied.
I wore out my shoes.
I lost the rubber heel tips first.

Then the wooden stumps splintered.
Then nails emerged, snagging carpet
and scraping pavement.

The lies felt too familiar.
Just like the lies in my family.
I quit my job.
I packed my few belongings,
my top secret name badge,
my comb,
my address book,
my packets of Tomato Cup-a-Soup.
I stomped out the door on my nails,
listening as they scraped the sidewalk.
As I walked away,
a trail of sparks blew behind me
into the darkness.



His cigarette glowed in the dark like a sore.
We were waiting to consummate our marriage.
Friends said be patient, but for how many days?
We were lying on our new bed, staring
at the cracks in the ceiling, hoping
they would spell out sexual instructions.
Above the ceiling, the sky fell away
to reveal an orgy of stars.

My husband slept in his clothes:
heavy work shirt with cargo pockets,
pants, belt and socks.
I had never seen him naked.
I wore the filmy blue lace peignoir
my grandmother bought for the wedding night.

I checked out books from the library
on sexual hygiene.
I studied the diagrams of male and female organs.
I considered the suggestions on what husbands like:
feminine attire, frequent showers,
makeup and good grooming,
soft tones, hot meals,
inquiries about his day.

But those books didn’t help. I needed
a handbook on hydraulics, or better yet,
How do I make two curves fit together?
How many sides are there to an angle?
How do I circle the square?
He smoked. I breathed it in.
It was the most intimate exchange we had.

We might still be lying there, staring at the ceiling
in our mismatched outfits
if he hadn’t decided to leave me,
travel to New York City,
become a jazz saxophonist.
He didn’t know how to play the saxophone
but he told me that didn’t matter.
It was a time of great possibility, he said,
and anything could happen.



Some days in the fall,
the walls,
like human skin,
get thinner.

On these days,
the membrane between
the living and the dead stretches,
as if the skull of a lost one
is pushing through.

Across the open air,
the so-what-ness of trees
by the vacant lot
serve as reminders
of more stable things.

No one wakes up one morning
and thinks this is the day
I will fall out of love.
Erosion, drips of water
on solid rock,
crevasse and canyon,
drip and drip and carve,
until his sleepy eyes
persuade me no longer.

It’s like this.
When people ask me what happened,
I tell them it was fall,
it was life or death,
it was the dripping water.