Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
  • Home
  • About
  • Archive
  • Bio Notes
  • Bookshelf
  • Contents
  • Submit
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

[Three Poems]

by Suzanne O’Connell

One in a Million

Last night in a dream
my father whispered to me 
I was one in a million.
Or, maybe I overheard him
bragging to someone else,
as fathers sometimes do.

I don’t want to overthink this,
because I was smiling
and felt so proud when I woke up.
But I do wonder if he meant 
it as a compliment?
Maybe he meant that,
statistically speaking,
my personality type is rare,
and meant it
not in a complimentary way.

My father never gave compliments.
He had been a Marine
stationed in the South Pacific on
an aircraft carrier.
He had two bone-on-bone hip 
Compliments made a kid soft
and weak.
He still holds the record for the most
consecutive tournament games of tennis
ever played.

I’ve held on to the only compliment 
I can remember.
He said I sang along with a song
on the radio
in my own true voice.
I don’t want to overthink this,
but maybe he meant he appreciated
my own true voice,
the real me,
and not the toady little
phony I had become.


The Bears

I dreamed we saw a bear cub in Carol’s house.
It was on the old Turkish carpet in the living room.
We were in the patio behind the screen doors.
There was oohing and pointing.
I as usual was the fearful one, 
worried about the what-next.
Where there’s a cub, I thought...
Sure enough,
a giant shadow rounded the corner 
from the bedroom.
A behemoth she was, 
all teeth and shag and grizz,
coming towards the flimsy
screen doors.

We could see the dirty pads of her paws
and her curved black nails
as she pushed on the wood around the screen.
We tried to hold her inside,
our shoulders straining to the job.
We pushed and pushed against
her mighty weight.
As the door splintered and blew open,
I woke up.

It was a reminder 
that there is always a mother lurking behind everything.
You can’t keep her away, 
no matter how hard you push.


The Big Winner

At night, I sometimes sneak up on my own house
pretending to be a stranger.
Who lives in there? I wonder.
What are they really like?
Are they happy?
Do they understand life?
Through the side window of the living room,
I see two dogs curled on the couch,
waiting for the shake of dry kibbles.
From this side, I hear the neighbor’s TV,
people cheering on a game show,
clever players vying to win big prizes. 

Through the open window, I can smell my house:
dog fur, flowers, and dust.
I also smell the spaghetti sauce simmering...
My glasses lie on the kitchen counter
next to the defrosting bag of peas.
I think my phone is ringing in the back of the house.
The lamp on the piano casts
a mellow light on the old wood 
of the upright Chickering.
I remember how my husband 
started taking piano lessons at 40
and the beginner piece he practiced—
for hours—made me want to run away.

He will swing into the driveway soon
and I will call yoo-hoo to him from the kitchen.
I will be standing by the stove stirring the sauce
and sipping a glass of red wine.
He will give me a hug and a kiss 
and ask what’s for dinner.
While he’s greeting the dogs on the couch,
I’ll pour out the kibbles.
I’ll put the peas in the microwave,
reach for the pasta bowls
and the grated cheese.

Later he might play me the new
Chopin nocturne he just learned.


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Suzanne O’Connell

earned her master’s degree in social work from the UCLA School of Social Welfare and currently works as a licensed clinical social worker. She attended several writing courses at UCLA and is currently a student of Jack Grapes’s advanced method writing group. She has also studied with Richard Jones, Lynn Hightower, Barbara Abercrombie, and Liz Gonzalez.

Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Foliate Oak, The G.W. Review, Organs of Visions and Speech Magazine, Permafrost, Reed Magazine, The Round, Sanskrit, The Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Talking River, Thin Air, Tower Journal, and Willow Review.

Ms. O’Connell volunteers with the American Red Cross and was presented with the Candlelight Award as the District Mental Health Volunteer of the Year. She has assisted in recovery during fifty-six disasters, including floods, fires, building collapses, train derailments, and the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury