Marsha de la O





Two for a Penny


She’d locked the door and somehow lost the key   a faulty keychain, hadn’t she told him,               and

the spare nearby   After so long without rain, sparrows fought to bathe   in the dust        take a moment     wait    let’s start again        falling she had time to wonder why         the freight of drink   the past   her shoes, her absurd pumps – the weight of an entire body balanced on two slender sticks       she wraps her arms around herself          look at the way night has shaped us      She’d locked the door and somehow lost the key      falling she had time to wonder   the slightest breeze, a small rush of wings could’ve toppled her a man upright, woman prone  but it wasn’t the wind and by now          we’ve gone beyond  the  gloaming    we’re   losing light   he struck her             falling

she had time        how small she is beneath his sway          in the Bible sparrows are two for a penny but never apart from the Father                these lovers, this slippage        loving every ravening thing   salt of their kisses         salt sting    an errant tooth gashed into her lip     and here’s providence, something broke her fall       her new stepchildren never saw         wait, here’s the lyric     after so long without rain dirt becomes a kind of silk  slow down and breathe         sparrows battle one another to bathe in a dustshaft   she toppled          hush now, don’t explain         falling                  a small king beating his wings against the ground, dust rising like talcum, a rush of wings    the jacaranda        hush now   her head empty – a few stars like a handful of salt scattered on a map of nothing      sometimes on your back,  you actually feel the world spinning,  all the shame         the children knew to disappear

his babies could hide on a dime               jacaranda blossoms petaling the patio   violet gone gray  try this   retake    it doesn’t make sense




Blue Parrots


Some lunge at each other’s throat, others blare

their klaxon horns, quarreling for the roost

because desire is a terrible thing, each crook

more brilliant than the next.  The nets mesh the air

spread over the blue like a snare in heaven.

Years ago in another aviary, I’d sit like this

without moving for hours, I’d trained myself.

Here, flamingos dizzy with lice, their beaks’

chisels open and close on what’s not there

but that’s all part of it, this squawk and sputter

after pure space in the canopy, the way parrots

want flight and wanting should be spare and

made of nothing but a woven wire, a door,

an outer door, two locks.  I’ve gone through

that threshold into shadow, but what violet

what blue compromise with the steel and cobalt

of night—for this it is said, entertain strangers

for this the match flares in bars of yellow and

blue, for many have entertained angels unawares,

flameburst of radium and bone, helpless, undone,

you drop everything, it all falls away, and when

you come to, you’re holding hands with the

wrong stranger, it’s like that




Imperial Night


I’m a grown woman, and know Buddhist scripture

makes no distinction between beauty and ugliness

in the Pure Land. My dreams are not that land.


The story never changes. Always in a car. Those

pilgrim girls, this painful impermanent earth,

a sutra is a thread that holds things together.


I do miss a good night’s sleep, don’t you?


When Milosz says, what reasonable man would

like to be a city of demons, I choose to believe

he includes woman in the word man.


I drive through imperial night. The thread is violence.

You must know how power fails to make us safe, those

prisons for mothers and children built on the border.


The moon threads her needle through my eyes, lashes

them open.  Here come the vans with trapped girls,


they’re too young, barely speak the language, not sure

what put out or get out means, they press their palms

against the side windows, each one crying I’ll get out.












Marsha de la O was born and raised in Southern California. Both sides of her family arrived in the Los Angeles area before William Mulholland built the aqueduct that brought in water from the eastern Sierras. De la O worked as a bilingual teacher in Los Angeles and the rural community of Santa Paula for more than twenty-five years. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College. Her first book, Black Hope, was awarded the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her second book, Antidote for Night, won the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award and was published by BOA Editions.  She lives in Ventura, California, with her husband, poet and editor Phil Taggart. Together, they produce poetry readings and events in Ventura County and are also the editors and publishers of the literary journal Askew.




Set in present-day Southern California, Antidote for Night is a heartbreak lyric, a corrido, a love song to California’s city lights and far-flung outskirts—the San Diego backcountry, the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and the Mojave Desert. A book of remedies for dire circumstances, rock-bottom realities, and the unrelenting weight of mortality, specifically among young men of color, this collection shows what it takes to see in darkness. Marsha de la O’s voice is a kind of free jazz, musically rich with L.A. noir and the vastness of metropolitan Southern California.

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