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Kathy O'Fallon: California Poets Part 7, Four Poems

Kathy Fallon

July 1st, 2024

California Poets: Part VII

Kathy O'Fallon

Four Poems



The unassuming plum clothed in earthy

purple, festooned with gray-green velvet.

From the Neolithic—a great survival

instinct. And who can help but notice

its resemblance to a testicle, fertile vessel,

musky as honey, hanging from smooth

but blemished skin—burls and scars

from the trunk’s war of growth.


Not since Neruda have I tasted fruit

this juicy, sweet and spunky as a kiss

on a cliff above the surf at St. Tropez.

Mouth sucking magenta, 1812

Overture from the waves, its finale

exploding down my lined and weathered

chin, begging to be licked—yes, violined,

no lover in my midst but my tongue.

Ode to What Goes Round


When Eratosthenes discovered our planet was round,

captains sailed on under no moon nights and mothers

relaxed their infant-grips, safe from the edge

to the net of the earth, safe from the infinite sky.


Lately everywhere I look I find circles

            it’s dizzying   really  

so many worlds inside worlds  

            our primate heads   each tiny cell  

surrounded by the dead in their new wombs  

orbs following loved ones like suitors  

            the word poem   how its vowels swaddle  

            fruit hanging like bosoms

in primary colors   bosoms and their testicle buddies

            smoke rings and daisies

            bubbles rising from the firmament

            each tree trunk an elegant circumference

unjaggéd Mother   tubes of a wave   tunnels and caves

            mouths open for laughing   for tongue

kisses   for spinning to the swing   little beads

of passion-sweat   dilated pupils   the Oh of orgasm

            dark opening of creation  



that the clap of closing shutters

            and crickets warning from the floorboards

are no more than crows’ spooky stories

            and bee songs that bear honey


that space is not really space but

            grain after grain after grain

and merged with the updraft of flying

            ash from the dead will never be lonely


that a strawberry moon can guide with its light

             and twin its image on the ocean

though color’s just a vivid reflection

            and pink doesn’t exist in the spectrum


that by circling the footprints of sandpipers

            peace signs can be viewed from the heavens

and beachgoers can feel some comfort

            along with the humble hermit crab


that the aphrodisiac of the ocean’s perfume

            can lift the veil of amnesia

and make me homesick

            for my amphibian 

In the Once Shallow Sea


Let us remember Cowell Park,

where flying saucer mushrooms

rest high-rised against the redwoods,


butter-colored and sheltering, yet so fragile

a thumb could crush their umbrellas; 

where fossils mingle with banana slugs


and the sorrel carpet cushions;

where charred and gutted trunks

still hold limbs that praise the sun,


and rings exposed resemble scrolls

of ancient contemplations; where

the band-winged grasshopper


and Mt. Herman beetle thrive nowhere

else on earth—insects the last to go,

once our carcasses have been eaten.


July 6th, 2024

California Poets Interview Series:

Kathy O'Fallon, Poet, Psychologist

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: You’re a practicing psychologist and have been for many years. Did you begin writing poetry before or after you decided to embark on this career path, and did your aesthetic change the moment you began counseling people?

KO: Such an interesting question. Thank you. I was one of those unfortunate students who was scared away from poetry in college by a poor teacher who graded me down for my interpretations because they disagreed with hers. In second grade I had a tiny poem published in the school newspaper, but otherwise I mostly wrote mediocre prose. Then, in 1998, soon after my mother died, while attending the Santa Barbara’s Writer’s Conference for my fiction, I wandered into Perie Longo’s workshop. She’s a wonderful California poet and therapist who does poetry therapy, so I was curious since I was already many years into practicing as a psychologist. It just so happened that there were three pairs of adult women and their mothers in the workshop, and it was just what my heart needed. I couldn’t seem to write anything but poems after that, albeit bad ones.

DG: Music has been used as therapy for a long time, and in fact there’s a discipline called precisely that—music therapy. Do you think poetry can have therapeutic qualities and have you ever used the art for this purpose?

KO: Yes, I do use it in my practice where’s there’s some interest, and it always has a therapeutic effect.

DG: Nietzsche once said that Dostoevsky was the only person who ever taught him anything about psychology. Who are the writers and poets you turn to for greater understanding into the human condition?

KO: I wouldn’t say that I turn to poetry for that. I read it primarily to be moved. Marie Howe speaks to me very deeply, since we have such similar backgrounds. Julie B. Levine, my favorite California poet, does also, although they have very difficult styles. And I’m a big fan of Dorianne Laux. Interesting that we all share the common incest history. Shakespeare, though, is my first love. And Rilke, Blake.

DG: Frost famously said that being a poet was not a profession but a condition. As a psychologist, how do you interpret that statement and do you agree with it?

KO: If by condition he means a certain sensibility, then I would agree, but it’s tough to generalize that much. I relate to Ellen Bass in that sensibility alone would not make me a good poet. Rarely does the muse not need my help in crafting the work. Practice, practice, practice your way into the profession.

DG: Do you think it would be easier or more difficult to counsel a poet?

KO: The easy answer would be “easier,” but I’ve known my share of poets who I wouldn’t want to have to treat.

DG: How do you feel about the first poem you published? Does it remain a pleasure to read with the passage of time?

KO: Goodness, no. And don’t go looking for my first two chapbooks! I’m a work-in-progress.

DG: Do you write only when inspired or are you unafraid to risk the chance of writing badly?

KO: I’m probably always a little afraid of writing badly, but I don’t have any trouble writing anyway. Although I enjoy generative workshops very much if they’re led by poets who can really deliver a poem, like Cecilia Woloch, which I find puts me in that writing trance, I can sit down and write whenever I think I have the time. I love it when I write no matter how many minutes I have available.

DG: What, for you, tends to produce a greater amount of material—what you feel or the environment in which you felt it?

KO: The latter, I think, in that when I am writing as if I am in the moment, whether it’s a past experience or a fictional one, which I consider environment, I can usually drop in more deeply into the details. Then emotions emerge out of the process of presence, rather than the emotions running the show. “Self will run riot” never works for me.

DG: What technical aspects of poetry do you feel most drawn to—metaphor, rhythm, form, or something else?

KO: I think in metaphor. My challenge is to reel them back so as not to confuse the reader. Poems are like music in my head, so sound is all-important to me, which, of course, involves rhythm, syntax, form.

DG: The notion of suffering for one’s art continues to fascinate, and society still gives this narrative a lot of credence. In relation, specifically, to poetry the question would be: Can a happy individual produce work as great as his counterpart who’s either lost or discontent—perhaps with himself, perhaps with his own society?

KO: I don’t think the opposite of happy is lost, but I think the fuller one’s life experience, the greater the opportunity to draw from those deep places which are bound to emerge unconsciously in poems and have the potential to create memorable works of art. But only if the poet has enough healthy detachment from whatever emotions are driving the work.

DG: What are you reading or working on these days?

KO: I just finished Julia B. Levine’s, Practicing for Heaven, having worked backwards through her books. I also just finished Marie Howe’s New and Selected.

I have been revising a full-length manuscript yet again and am in the process of sending it out. There are so many poems waiting to be revised—I write more than I seem to find time to finish. When I was a child, my mother gave me ten cents whenever I completed a project (needlework, artwork, anything that required more than one sitting), but I rarely collected, I’m sorry to admit. Poetry is a good discipline for me.

Author Bio:

Kathy O’Fallon’s poems have been published in journals and anthologies such as Rattle, Slipstream, and Salt Marsh Press, along with three chapbooks. Her full-length manuscripts have been finalists for the Backwater Prize, the Inlandia Book Award, and the Henry Morganthau Award. O’Fallon is a psychologist in Carlsbad, CA.


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