Ellie O’Leary – Five Poems

Headphones at the Boston Public Library

The portal was guarded by lions
protecting the building,
protecting the people,
or were they protecting the books?
The three of us, Mommy, Danny, and I
(They called me Honey.)
entered past the lions.
Was I the only one who heard their roar?
We went to the sheltered space of the children’s room
where I met a world of possibilities,
at least a few, if not many, steps beyond
what I had already known.
There’s so much I don’t remember –
not what I wore, not the library lady,
not any of the other children,
not even the story, nor where Danny was
at that moment when I was seated
in a circle of children
each of us happily tethered to
a center console
listening to
a story on headphones.
Made with black, bulbous padding,
too big for me,
they sent a story
straight into my head
festooning it with all
the possibilities of beyond. 

I don’t remember the details,
I remember the sensation.
Me, plugged into a world,
proudly linked to a new universe.
Passionately hearing words
delivered directly into my head.
Decades later, the first time I host a radio show,
a guest takes my picture, and I say,
“Get me with the headphones on.”

I’m Six Now

I should be able to do this
one lace over the other
pull and tie
but the shoe is wrong
the lace is gone
loose so I pull again
on just one side
I can do this
I can fix this
because I’m six now
fighting with my shoe laces
but not crying
because I won’t
but Mommy hears me anyway
and says, “Let me help you.
That’s what mothers are for.”
She loves me.
I’m going to keep her.

The Kids in the Village Asked
how come I didn’t know the difference
between a Holstein with its black and white splotches
and a Jersey nearly all brown with a little black on the face?
Where did I come from that  
I wouldn’t know a simple thing like which cow was that?

My question was where did she go?
Why couldn’t I have my mother?

The kids in the village couldn’t understand
how I didn’t know a simple thing like walking on the left.
Up the hill on the left, down the hill on the left. Facing traffic.
What traffic, I asked myself?
Who cared where a car was, where it was going?

I wanted to know a simple thing.
Where did she go?

The kids in the village couldn’t believe
I had never peed outside. Never, they asked?
You mean in somebody’s yard? Or a park? I asked back.
In the woods, they said.
No, no woods.

No mother to ask. Is that OK, to go
to the bathroom where there is no bathroom?

The kids in the village said Momma.
Momma said this and Momma said that
as if every mother was everybody’s Momma,
but I said my mother
because I only said Mommy

when I talked right to her
which I never did anymore
out loud.

Breathe Here

I’m breathing
into a space
that has been
and reawakened
by my breath.
I’m frustrated I can’t do
everything in yoga class.
My left underarm has been
my left breast rebuilt
from my abdomen.
I don’t see my scars 
don’t care what they look like.
I know how they feel.
A shooting pain
in my underarm reminds
me the skin and muscle
do not stretch
even if I breathe into them
but I’m
not home saying
I can’t do this
even though
I’ve been nipped, tucked
and maybe pleated.

My Dolls in Black and White

My dolls crowded together
                        on shelves
                        above my bed
Two were all grown up and, unlike the baby dolls,
by their dress,
                        declared their choices.
Sending me messages
                        through the night
                        in my dreams.
 One in black, dressed in long habit, 
                        rope belt                     
                        with a crucifix.
One in white, veiled and lovely
                        in lace
                        dressed to please.
Those were my options – dress in black
                        and be done
                        with choosing
Or dress in white – hoping
                        for more babies,
                        more dolls.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty blossoms when that previously unsolvable problem dissolves under pressure from persistence, even if it’s persistence combined with luck. Beauty is when you land upright, especially if you are doing something like a figure skating jump. It’s the feeling of success – making a good salad, writing a novel, winning a prize for your efforts. No matter the scope because beauty is a feeling, not an appearance.


Ellie O’Leary often writes about growing up in the village of Freedom, Maine. She is the previous host of Writers Forum on WERU-FM, has won the Martin Dibner Memorial Fellowship in poetry, and has taught writing at the Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondacks and at Belfast (Maine) Senior College. She is the co-founder of Fall Writerfest,  a new Adirondack writing experience set to begin in September 2019. Her work has previously been published in Off the Coast, Northern New England Review and in The Crafty Poet II.