One of the most enriching, forward-thinking, fastest-growing online creative communities flourishing right now is the Poetry community, especially in those scenes that center on marginalized voices — Women, POC, Neurodivergent, and LGBTQ. Poetry Spotlight is a feature aiming to showcase the work of some of the most talented creators we’ve discovered making waves on the Internet literary circles, inside or outside the mainstream. This time, we focus on the poetry of young American writer Ailey O’Toole.
Ailey is a queer poet and bartender who writes about empathy, pain, and feminism. She hopes everyone who reads her poems can find a piece of themselves in them and feel a little less alone. Her work has previously appeared in The Odyssey, The Broke Bohemian, After the Pause, and forthcoming from the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review.
The winter love tells me to lay down, close
my eyes, part my lips. There is ice in his eyes
and I do it anyways. The winter love tells me
to be quiet and somehow, I still fall in love.
I get up from the bed and there’s summertime
telling me he wants all of me, caressing
my wounds, offering himself. There are
bloomed flowers all over his body
but I can’t take his hand.
The winter love leaves his subtle mark across
my body, love in reddish hues, and the ice in his eyes
has found its way under my skin. He feels bad,
gives me scarves, buys a heater, but it never
stops. And somehow, I love him anyways.
Summertime brings a flush to my cheeks,
sunshine in my veins. I wear dresses and
he kisses gentle praises into the slope
of my neck. He’s always kind and yet,
I doubt. The ice is not forgotten.
The winter love gets mad when I turn cold,
too, doesn’t believe me when I tell him I love
him, is always demanding I give him more
of myself. I turn myself inside out to be
what he wants, but it’s not enough. His
ice is still moving through my bones. I
love him still until one day, that’s not
Summertime leans over my sleeping form
and kisses my cheeks until I wake. He waits
patiently as I shake off a dream of a body
paralyzed by ice. He’s always gentle and
warm, a quiet, soothing sunset. But the winter
love is still there. How will I ever know
if I’ve managed to get rid of all the ice?
A Field Guide to Loving Yourself
1) Trust me when I tell you that you don’t have to hide the scars that rose pale in your healing. Wear them as art decorating the house of your survival.
2) Become the patron saint of your own endurance, because you’re the one who carried yourself through all the dark days. You don’t need to offer your body as an apology to anyone. Once you figure that out, you will find the solace you’ve been searching for in other people’s mouths.
3) Don’t give anyone permission to take you apart. I know watching your parents fight taught you something else, but believe me when I say that love is not supposed to look like deconstruction. You built yourself up in this body with all its beautiful flaws; there’s no need to let someone take that from you.
4) When you fall in love again, don’t let them tear chunks from you like some half-starved bird. It’s not your responsibility to feed them. And if they look at you like you’re a way out of their suffering, hand them your heart like it’s a grenade and run for the hills. You don’t need them.
5) Keep in mind that love is an organic thing – it rots and softens, no matter how well you tend to it. Don’t blame yourself for the way Mother Earth eventually destroys and reclaims everything as her own, with time.
6) When you feel you’ve hurt someone, recognize that sometimes, these misshapen attempts to make amends come from grief, not guilt. You are always allowed to feel things.
7) Remember you are only an ocean away from everything you’ve been chasing and yes, I said an ocean, but boats these days are so fast.
We eat peaches and bury the pits in my soft
backyard soil, hoping to make something of
ourselves. We are fifteen, juice dripping down
our chins, and the world plays out exactly
the way we expect it to. The pits never grow
into anything, just like we knew they wouldn’t.
We are fifteen and summer blisters its way
through our bodies. I learn to swing a hatchet
and wonder about the fecklessness of God. We
use our hands to make melodies and slowly
begin to belong in fewer places. The peach
pits rot in the soil as my mother turns over
in her bed. We are fifteen and the windows
are down and we are drenched in being. Nothing
ever grows, but we still search for
meaning. There are no new trees but we are
fifteen and passing laughter in secret. We
will be this for as long as we can, until
the rain comes, until the sky blooms,
until we are sixteen and there are fresh
peaches and we realize darkness does not mean
there will never be light.
Submission Calls For an Actress
after Amber Tamblyn
Early to mid 20’s. Curvy, but only in the right places. Blue eyes preferable but green eyes acceptable; eyes shadowed by the grief of knowing that everything good has long been over. The type of woman that men would tell, “you’re not like other girls.” A smile that says, “I’m broken and looking for a man to fix me.” Straight teeth a must, no one likes a girl with a crooked smile. “How will you look in family photos?” her mother would ask when she refuses braces on the grounds of authenticity.
Character is full of shame, a constant walking apology. Character has outgrown codependency but is still looking for someone to give her the love her parents never did. Character doesn’t know how to be alone, tries to make every relationship a meaningful one, abandons all emotional boundaries. Character knows what it’s like to be young and in love but wants more. Always wanting more.
Character is me, a girl trying to be a woman. A girl who is more than one thing and not all those things are good. A girl from a home full of darkness and anger, who only knows self-violence as coping mechanism. Character is tired of existing, would like someone else to take over for her. Character should be prepared to be silenced around every corner, heart rotting in her chest from all the things she never got to say. Character is trying her best and no one seems to notice.
Character is me.