William O’Daly is a poet, translator, essayist, and fiction writer. His published works include eight books of the late and posthumous poetry of Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (Still Another Day, The Separate Rose, Winter Garden, The Sea and the Bells, The Yellow Heart, The Book of Questions, The Hands of Day, and World’s End), and a chapbook of poems, The Whale in the Web. O’Daly was a finalist for the 2006 Quill Award in Poetry for Still Another Day and was profiled on NBC’s The Today Show. His poems, translations, essays, and reviews have been published in a wide range of anthologies and magazines that include American Poetry Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Clover, CutBank, Field, Great River Review, Miju Poetry & Poetics (Mijusihak; interview and poem with accompanying Korean translation), Narrative, Northwest Review, Parabola, Poetry East, Portland Review, RATTLE, Tiferet, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, he has worked as a literary and technical editor, a college professor, and an instructional designer, winning regional and national awards for literary editing and instructional design. With co-author Han-ping Chin, he recently completed a historical novel, This Earthly Life, based on the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This Earthly Life was selected for the “Finalist” category in prestigious Narrative magazine’s 2009 Fall Story Contest. A resident of the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California, he is a board member of Poets Against War and co-founder of Copper Canyon Press.


The Handout

The fear sneaks up on me —
the flickering streetlamp, the geraniums suddenly colorless
and isolated in their window box —
some measure of lightning is lost
at the rim of the darkening sky.  I hear the hollow sound
of feet shuffle along the sidewalk —
they are our feet — then the empty horns
and the cautious hours begin, the uneasy absence
of young men who ride their dream horse
into the corral of a single thought,
and of women who ride the streetcar.
The thickening fog gathers, as it will,
accepts the figure huddled like a human
in the threadbare quilt.  We are walking to our hotel,
where the carpet and the immortal art of sleep
will keep us.  We pass a precise arc
of frozen shoulders, hooded head fallen
like a black petal in the corolla of night.
My pace quickens — my daughter, slowing
into her life, into the power of what she carries
in the fragrant bag swinging at her right hip,
stops and peers up.  Barely suspecting what she knows,
I say “Let’s go…”  But she turns back
toward the blanketed life.  He raises his head
a touch and looks at us, his eyes
catching the dim lights of docked ships.
She hands him half a cheeseburger and a heap of fries —
he gently accepts and in my shame
I learn how tonight he will eat, and later
in the cold and clanging air
the gulls will compete for a few missed crumbs
where we, at the same moment, say good night.

Originally published in Clover, Vol. 4, Winter 2012

Animal of Light

I am in this endless lack of solitude
an animal of light corralled
by his mistakes and by his foliage:
the forest is wide:  here my brother creatures
swarm, back away or roam around,
while I retreat accompanied
by the escort that time chooses:
waves of the sea, stars of the night.

It is small, it is wide, scarce and is everything.
My eyes from looking into so many eyes
and my mouth from so many kisses,
from having swallowed the smoke
of those trains that vanished:
the old merciless stations
and the dust of countless bookshops,
the man I am, the mortal, weary
of eyes, of kisses, of smoke, of roads,
tired of books thicker than the earth.

And today, deep in the lost forest
he hears the rustling of the enemy and flees
not from the others but from himself,
from the interminable conversation,
from the choir that used to sing with us
and from the meaning of life.

Because one moment, because one voice, because one
syllable or the passing of one silence
or the undying sound of the wave
leave me face-to-face with the truth,
and there is nothing left to decipher,
nothing more to say:  that was all:
the doors of the forest are closed,
the sun circles opening the leaves,
the moon rises like a white fruit,
and man suits himself to his destiny.

Pablo Neruda, translated by William O’Daly

from Winter Garden, Copper Canyon Press, 1986, 2002


For Kawamura Yoichi

On the tenth anniversary of your death
the lavish bamboo drops a full moon
of yellow petals, little tongues
singing the ancient songs
to whomever will listen—
the nighthawk gives all he has,
opening his eyes among the blue stars,
Buddha sits among angels beside the wild river
and laughs, touching mountain and cloud,
and a new generation waits to blossom
with the green rain of distant Samsara.

William O’Daly

Originally published in Sacramento News and Review 


William O'Daly at Moonday Poetry

Photo by Mike Aviña



2013 William O’Daly

Moonday Poetry 2012

  MOONDAY HOME PAGE (Current Features)  
MOONDAY (Previous Features)  
                             MOONDAY (Upcoming Features)