Coming Attraction - Underlife by January O'Neil

OK. So this is perhaps not a summer read at the beach --- unless you're looking for sustenance for life rather than leisure. January O'Neil, poet extraordinaire and author of Underlife will be appearing here soon for an interview. In the meantime, here is one of her amazing poems from Underlife, published by CavanKerry Press, 2010.

True Story #2: Missing

First a foot, then the whole body
found wedged upside-down behind
a tall bookcase,

a young woman missing in a home
she shared with her family
most of her life.

Eleven days misplaced, 
the police surmised she simply fell 
adjusting a TV plug behind the shelves—

simply, as if she disappeared
to that land of lost socks and
missing keys

and could be retrieved
simply by believing it so.
Her sister passed her bedroom

without stopping to look
but could not put her finger
on that unfamiliar odor

soaking the house in loss.
It doesn’t matter, at this point,
if they believed it was a kidnapping,

or death or escape.
Only the following remains:
a little thing miscalculated, collapsed,

and gave way. What new fear
will guide their silent house at night—
her absence pinned against a plaster wall.

In the end, it wasn’t enough
to see her every day
to love her silence and her shaky grace.

They seem convinced of
a quiet so deep
even common sense can’t intrude on it.


  1. Chilling. Real life re-created in verse that makes me feel the intense pain it evokes.

  2. So tragic and terrible...but a beautiful poem.

  3. Thanks, Maureen -- I will try for something more upbeat next time. I just left a message for you at your blog about sleuthing info on Myra Albert Wiggins -- my project of the next few days is finishing an article about her and about me!

  4. Oh, no, please don't take my comment to mean I would have hoped for something else. I think it's a stunning poem. I even tweeted your link, as I know quite a few poets online who would enjoy reading this incredible work.
    On the subject of Wiggins. I've come across a number of what appear to be incorrect references. One site about "Women Painters of Washington" states that Wiggins' work is in the "National Gallery of American Art, Smithsonian Institution". In fact, there is no such named art institution in D.C. There is the National Gallery of Art, which, according to my search of the site and its collections, has no Wiggins' work. The Wikipedia entries mention the same incorrect art institution, so I think the erroneous entries may be originating with it.

    I did a different kind of search of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which we call SAAM. Two hits came up as part of the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, in the Photograph Archives:"William Merritt Chase with his class at the Art Students League, New York", 1892 or 1893; with a slightly different inscription on the original photo by Wiggins. There's a lot of info about the image. The second is "Augustus Saint-Gaudens' class at the Art Students League, New York", 1892 or '93. Image numbers, respectively are J0107733 and J0107741. Please take a look on the site.

    There is a Wiggins, "Hunger Is the Best Cook", 1898, in the collection of Seattle's Frye Museum; you probably know that. And of course you know about the Portland Art Museum's holdings.

    The Safeco (Insurance) collection donated to the Washington Art Consortium in Seattle includes a Wiggins, "Unloading the Catch", 1898, Gelatin silver print.

    Also, the Oregon State Library in Salem has a collection of glass plate negatives by WIggins.

    Do you know a gallerist by the name of David Martin, owner of Martin-Zambito Fine Art in Seattle who has a special interest in Wiggins and has written quite a few articles and lectured on early women photographers? If not, he might be a good contact for you. He has a Website. I don't know him, just of him.

    The Spring/Summer 1999 issue of "Style 1900" (a quarterly) had an article on Wiggins, "Myra Albert Wiggins: Arts & Crafts Photographer". I came across it on ebay.

  5. Maureen, You are utterly amazing! Thank you. Most of what you mention I have some knowledge of. I've been meaning to contact David Martin for years, maybe this is my chance! Carole Glauber, author of WItch of Kodakery and some of the other pieces you mention. She thinks there are more photographs at the Smithsonian that may not be digitalized yet. You are so kind! Did I tell you that Kelli and I will be in DC next February reading at Bus Boys and Poets? I so hope we can meet then! Thank you!

  6. Susan, that's great. I'd love to hear you and Kelli read. We have a Bus Boys & Poets in Shirlington, too, about 15 minutes from my house in Arlington. We enjoy it. The U St. location is very well-known, of course. An expansion is underway at the Arlington location, so perhaps more events will be possible there soon.

    This link brings up the other search results for SAAM's archived info on Wiggins (I accidentally left it out):
    There's a slideshow button at the top.


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