Kathleen O'Toole
Selected Poems

Kathleen’s poem “Riff: what it takes” was featured in the latest issue of AntiphonRead and hear it here.

Recent Poetry Publications and Recognition for Kathleen O’Toole’s poems

Kathleen’s poem “At the Mariner’s Chapel, Auvillar” was selected by final judge Christian Wiman 3 rd prize in the Image/New York Encounter Poetry Contest. Selected from among 1,000 entries, the poem was honored in January, 2017 at the New York Encounter whose theme (and that of the poetry contest) was “Reality has never let me down”. Read the poem here.

Their voices

The heat ― the close of another August day.
I rummage drawers of half-sleep for the voices
of my three aunts, lest time erase
the special timbre of their speech: the way

Ann’s laughter endures, despite the din
of a decade’s chatter, erupts in raspy
bursts − gin fizz from a barkeep’s
wand. Her Lucky Strike aloft. Then

Flo died. Yet I still hear that twang
in her vowels, the wah-wah of a trumpet
solo at the Sons of Italy dance. Last, let
Ginny’s cigarillo tones request a tango.

My memory’s the vessel — an old jar, lid
punched with holes, to let the fireflies live.

first published, Broadkill Review, 2015

The Gleaners

Their uplifted faces, rapt before Millet’s masterpiece, their docent explains the economics behind the scene ─ how thoroughly the tiny men in the background would have harvested the piles of tares at the women’s feet, how they would have bundled their gleanings. The little ones offer their teacher eager answers about what one does with blé, volunteering gâteax before pain quotidian. Yet this is Paris 2011  enough immigrant faces among them to know something about hunger, gathering all that’s left after even meager harvests....

February rain
beneath the rose window
votives flicker

published, Modern Haiku, 43.3,
Autumn 2012
featured in Nothing in the Window,
Red Moon Anthology of English-language haiku, 2012

Twilight, Ardgroom

Bumping along in the backseat of a van,
we pilgrims watch nubs of granite
strewn across Beara hillsides, see waves
crash over skelligs and stone beaches.
Scrubby tufts of grasses, a knobby yew
or two and palm fronds rustle as we pass.

At Ardgroom, the bog-soggy climb
across fields and over laddered fences
ascending to the ancient circle of stones.
Angelus hour. The rays transform
us into seven new strokes of shadow
moving among tines cast already
for three thousand years of days. Heedless
of us, a larger circle of ewes and lambs
bray their offering out. Incense altar,
smoke and scent rising from this odd
patch: pilgrims, stones, grasses, mud −
all earth. I finger the water-worn,
lichened stones one by one, lay
hands on the warmth of all nine
left standing.
Now mind the spirit
of whosever hands erected this:
kil, cashel, timepiece, sacred space,
Here our elements strike ancestral flint.
Moon and star shine, bonfires, all
have lit this height, stirred air
that sanctifies wells, cairns,
Kenmare waters, ourselves 
touched, tethered, aglow.

First published, Potomac Review, Winter 2014


In the valley a red-winged blackbird’s call
echoes the keening wind of March. Solo,
atop a utility pole, then a lodge pole pine,
he peddles his sharp, insistent cry. His head
swivels, and I imagine he’s following me,
separated from his circle of call and response.
I’m hoping for a medium ― four months
and I still can’t conjure your voice. The first
weeks after you died, a lone robin visited
my back yard daily. Your grandson found him
oddly friendly, so I would interrogate him:
shape shifter, robbery suspect, your envoy?
You wanted to “go out singing” so why not
return as a robin, the breed your bird-loving
mother Madelyn loved? I loved his singing,
distinct in the dawn chorus, serenading me
at dusk. But even his aria did not unlock
your boisterous baritone from memory. Nor
did you come to me in a dream. So I turned
to beer and baseball, cheered the Phillies’ early
season success, watched their sluggers stumble,
even took in the All Star Game, in your beat-up
recliner no less. No dice; no word.
So I’m back
to birds. I’ve deciphered a lark’s duet
with a twenty-nine bell carillon in Bruges,
queried a jackdaw on a Brussels balcony,
expecting a message from you. Then today,
the iridescent flash of a Stellar’s Jay
interrupted my lunchtime reverie. He hops,
squawks, and I hear: What of this beauty
would I not steal for you  this sky,
the sun, my cobalt brilliance into your joy.

Only that’s not your voice, at least not
any voice I’d recognize as yours. Don’t tell
me this obsession with song is your gift 
that Jungian saw about receiving your life’s
errand from the other-gendered parent. If so,
what did I miss in hearing only the sports
announcer’s voice, that voice more rehearsed
for show tunes and audiences (Something familiar,
something peculiar, something for everybody... )
than for poetry?
I can still see you
in your last hospital room, my book of poetry
in your hands, curious about the origins,
probing obscurities. You did love the baseball
poem, the one I dedicated to you, but I had to
explain: it was your voice I’d channeled.

Finalist, Ruth Stone Prize
Published, Hunger Mountain,
winter 2013/2014