Maureen O'Dea



Although your body
ages eighty-nine years,
each cell along the lining
of your stomach is virginal,
without the assault
of foreign chemicals
or preservatives.
You originate from Persia,
but imitate the life
of Saint Francis of Assisi,
lover of animals, birds,
and flowers?

From where does this cancer come
and why does this sickness spread in you?

You are tall, thin, and strong.
but unforgettable are your wisdom
and kindness
in your soft-spoken voice.
Although Farsi is your first language,
your words and thoughts transcend
all languages and rise
from within.

Today, you yield
as the cancer consumes.

And I prepare to imagine you
each fall, in your garden,
planting daffodils,
and harvesting
sour cherries and figs.

And I will remember the care
with which you tended
your pomegranate tree,
that gifts the fruit
of paradise.



After my uncle died
in Ireland,
I remembered the meadows
and the whitewashed cottage
in Leitrim

and I see John Patrick
making the bales of hay
in the fields.
I am seeing my uncle
sitting by the kitchen fire,
smoking his pipe,
telling a good crack,
or playing an Irish tune
on his tin whistle.

And I see John Patrick
walking up the field
to feed his horses
or opening the door
for his dogs.

And I know his good friends
and neighbors
like John McManus, the Kenneys,
Willie, Sean Reilly, and the McCabes
are seeing him too
perhaps, in their own kitchens,
sharing a cup of tea
or a pint of Guinness,

or driving his tractor
up the road, ready
to help
with the harvest.

I know, somehow,
you never seem to vanish.




To get out of bed
in the morning
means to shape God
into reasons,
as to wear red rouge
for the first time
or to see a friend
for his birthday
or to eat bread
or to walk to work
on a new route.

I hang these
like stars
over my head
and then reach
to lift the weight
of my body.


Beyond the limbs
and torso,
I am a world
with countries
in a geography
of my own.

In my journeys,
I find home
not in brick houses
nor in my memory
of childhood,
but in my center,
in my origin
of breath.

I have rivers
of emotion
that run deep
and quiet lakes
beneath, buried
in a cavern.

I surrender
to flight
without wing,
shaping continents
in my travels.


My body was exposed
after my death
for the doctors
to dissect my muscles
and nerves
with a scalpel.
They saw auricles
and wastes
that grew like cancer
but no trace
of my voice
or breath.

I wonder about words
and where they go
when I am scraped
and hallow
as a shell.


You were relieved
when I returned:
with a normal pulse,
in familiar clothes.

I performed
and convinced.

You didn’t know
about the dead woman
under my costume
of make-up
and masquerade.

As for myself,
I tried believing
by filling my head
with good news
from old letters
and reading novels
with new outlooks
but I cannot escape
or walk away
from my stare
in every piece
of glass.



There is the secret
to being rich.

I must discover the Africa
in my heart:
an exotic continent
of boundless jungles
with knotted vines,

where my journeys
leave no footprints
that are foreign.

For you,
it is baseball,
every season,
finding yourself
on the diamond map.

I hear echoes
more clearly
in poetry
than any place
I’ve ever traveled.

In this land,
I know the language
of silence
and a slight breath
makes me feel
like flying.


Maureen O’Dea is a first generation Irish American who grew up in Queens, New York. She graduated with a B.A. degree in English from St. John’s University. After receiving her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine, she completed her Ophthalmology residency at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC. Dr. O’Dea is an active member of the medical community and maintains her own private practice in Ophthalmology in Woodbridge, Virginia.


Published in Volume 8, Number 2, Spring 2007.