Bill O’Connell

Twyckenham Notes
Issue Fourteen
Winter 2021-22

Taking the Stairs

I’m careful on the steps, coming down
a long stone set in Lisbon, finding
the railing with a trailing hand while
my daughter skips ahead with her lover
like Ginger and Fred down to the waterfront
and the rest of their lives. I grip
the metal, cool cylinder, feel
a hundred years of use, watch
the man kneeling to the side
repair cobblestones one cube
at a time, methodical, the cop
minding him, hands clasped behind
his back, eyeing me as I stop and snap
the photo. I leave them there 
to do their jobs, descend again,
the young people now far ahead,
their shapes growing smaller and darker
as they go, silhouettes against
the late afternoon sea. 

In the Cow Shed

The cows turn their great heads through the grates 
of the feeding bars in time with my steps
as I pass, moist nostrils pushing air
up and out of their bellies, bits
of hay falling from wet mouths when they bellow.

I am a stranger here in the cold shed
and they sense it. Paul hands me a hay fork
and a bucket and tells me in a week he’ll make me
into a farmer. I look at him and know 
it takes a lifetime, his own black eyes 

sensing the cattle’s every need and the needs
of Fiona making dinner after teaching all day,
the mortgages no number of cattle sold 
for a good price will suffice, the land of generations
beneath his feet that will give and give

as he does, smiling at his joke and strutting off
to get the tractor. I fill the bucket
with the hose outside the shed door, the hay fork
damp in my soft hands, the bull
with bad feet who eats his special millet
keeping one eye on me.

BILL O’CONNELL has been living in the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts between the Connecticut River and Quabbin Reservoir since 1984. A retired social worker, he teaches literature and writing at Greenfield Community College and runs a small handyman business. Bill’s books of poetry include Sakonnet Point (Plinth Books 2011) & On The Map To Your Life (Dytiscid Press 1992) plus poems in anthologies and literary magazines such as The Sun, Poetry East, Colorado Review, Green Mountains Review, etc. A new collection, When We Were All Still Alive, is just out from Open Field Press.

Cover image by GJ Gillespie.
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