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Heather Aimee O'Neill

Heather Aimee O'Neill is a freelance writer and teaches literature and creative writing at CUNY Hunter College of New York. She is the Managing Editor for Border's Open-Door Poetry Project and is currently working on a novel.


"'We’ll leave behind a language, travel back,' says O’Neill in a poem from Memory Future, locating the ghost of Jeanette Winterson’s 'memory past, memory future' precisely in these lyrical remembrances of what has not yet come full circle. The trajectory forward into memory is the path of the imagination -- these fiercely delicate poems prove what we already knew: that remembering and imagining are one.”

– Carol Muske-Dukes



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Memory Future

I still keep Memory Future in my handbag, knowing those words are still there if I need them.


I started reading Memory Future when I was moving out, in between packing boxes. I’d reward myself with a poem or two, until packing boxes became me, sitting on my air mattress, reading the opening poem, “Certainty,” over and over. The poem begins like this:

“Jess would ask Lewis Carroll for a word
for word translation of Jabberwocky

or Buffalo Bill where he hid the gold.
Laure-Anne would ask Mary Magdalene

if she and Christ were lovers.
Anthony would ask Him:

Will you help me?”

Will you help me? I read, again and again. To say that I felt understood would be an understatement. I felt comforted by these words, but at the same time, I felt unsettled, unsafe. And there is a realness to that emotional tug-of-war I appreciate.

* * *

I kept this book with me after I moved out, too.

I kept it with me while traveling through California, New Mexico.

In a way, these poems became part of me. Of course everything you read becomes part of you in some way in that it affects you, but there are few books out there I consider friends.

Memory Future came into my life at a time I needed it most, when I was traveling West, traveling alone. I left Orlando to find a home within myself, to be able to understand how to use my sadness and anger to create happiness. Whenever I felt alone in my emotions, I’d pick up Memory Future and read from it, and it felt like the person I always needed was there, listening to me. I remember reading “From the Platform” while I was on a train to New Mexico:

“But you look straight ahead into

the dark lines of the tunnel,
book resting on your lap, eyes
full of the hazel green in your scarf.

You could live without me.”

It hurts, accepting this “living without.” And that’s what I love about O’Neill’s poetry the most, the pain that comes forth through her strong, declarative language. Her language is muscular, but also flexible. She delves into the love present in all stages of life, from childhood to adulthood, and she depicts this love in a way where happiness and sadness rely on each other. Both can be heavy, harsh.

“Living without” can be especially harsh. But there is a freedom there, in that without.

* * *

I am back in Florida, now, trying to re-invent my idea of home again, from the inside (of the body) out (beyond the yard, the fence, the road).

I still keep Memory Future in my handbag, knowing those words are still there if I need them.

Today I looked to “Winter in Spain” for assurance in my belief that travel can help heal, that home is bigger than what we see, that home encompasses not only space, but time. That partnership is not enough to build a home, and neither is travel. Something else needs to be present alongside these things. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s beautiful.

“. . . We talk and light a cigarette,
because we can, until the quick collapse
of poles and planks and us and we begin
again. I press her hand to mine and watch.”

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