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Sample Poems by Kathleen O'Toole


We need in love to practice only this: letting each other go.
For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.
Rainer Maria Rilke

It is the season of letting go.
Each tree strafed by November wind repeats the truth,
each leaf scraping pavement like a dog’s paws.

Letting go of breath, of the sun’s heat:
we feel it as we stand wind-whipped, in awe of geese that yield
calmly to the chill of the tidal pond where they feed.

When we embrace, the joy we feel is
urgent as if we possessed this moment alone.
Love lasts that practices the grasp

of marsh wrens leaping at reeds in wind,
the trust of a seagull’s sudden uplift. Thus held
love may appear or disappear without warning

as migrating flocks ascend with the sound
of a low fire bursting into flame.

The Magdalen, A Garden and This

Strip all else away and we’d know only
that she was grateful, that she found her way
to the cross, and that she returned

to the tomb. A disciple for sure, not
Mary Sister of Lazarus, or the woman caught
in adultery or she who angered the men

by anointing Jesus with expensive oils.
This Mary of Magdala only named as one
from whom he cast out seven devils, followed

until that first day of the week, in the garden,
where, weeping at her loss, she was recognized,
became known in the tender invocation

of her name. Mary: breathed by one
whom she mistook for the gardener, he
who in an instant restored her—

gave her in two syllables a life beloved,
and gave me the only sure thing I’ll believe
of heaven, that if it be, it will consist

in this: the one unmistakable
rendering of my name.

Portmuck Blackberries

It’s easier here where hedges edge the lane
and the dark fruit shines openly
crowning old stone walls, easy to taste
the August ripeness one berry at a time.
Each morning and afternoon I sample
more of the last reds softened sweetly black
so that to taste is to remember
summer foraging, the pains we once took
to pick these berries, assembling in a
dutiful band like altar servers we
stood sweltering and overclothed but
protected from the woods in which we gathered.
We knew the ritual, the penance of thorns,
reaching for fingerfuls to fill the tins,
knew too our reward, to savor for days
that tart aroma of stewing, straining
the berries into jam, even while checking
our scalps for ticks, medicating the itch
of hands scored red from the dark thicket.
Now I collect no more than a handful,
select each berry to taste, and relish
the soft pulse of berry between thumb
and finger, where the sun plays black-silver
and sure against the skin of this new fruit.

County Antrim Archeology

Two pounds approximately is what you’ll be reduced to
after seventeen hundred years, others’ atoms layered over
bones and bits of tooth, nail, and less and less you.
Two, four thousand years, twenty centuries of grief
have sanctified these grave stones. Land levels rise here,
as the sphagnum moss darkens, tightens, pressed to peat,
as tissue, tendons, heart meat blacken into a tangle
of root that will someday climb to cover sixteen feet
of round tower in its keep, claim the granite base
of a chapel, rosary beads, a bishop’s gold crosier,
the soldier’s gun, whatever weighs on this receptive
earth. Like a slow black hand, the centuries’ tidal wave
crests to clear the coast of all rival claims to sovereignty,
until your own molecular mark sinks with the rest,
a small moist stain on the lip of the whirling god.