Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Eileen Cleary. Eileen’s work is haunting, beautiful, strong, quiet, and necessary. She manages to evoke quietude and grace, and lays bare the American landscape of class and need. I rarely read her work without feeling irrevocably moved to respond. What’s more, Eileen is kind, generous, and a literary citizen who spends her time upholding the work of others. I’m honored to have her featured here.
Where can we find your work?
You can find some of my poetry in MERvox Quarterly, Naugatuck River Review, Poems 2 go, J Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, Right Hand Pointing and Main Street Rag. I’ve published interviews with poets, and these can be found at the Carve Magazine blog.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
Thank you for asking. My work engages with hunger and poverty, the human condition, the need to belong and human connections to family and to one another.
What were you like as a child?
I was an introvert and very shy. I loved to hear stories and was extremely quiet.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
The work I’m most proud of the care I take of family and friends, and of my hospice nursing. I’ve been a nurse since 1985 and it’s been a privilege to meet hundreds of patients, have a hand in saving lives, bring comfort and education, while loving and accepting others right where they are. I am also proud that I have participated for over a decade in repairing homes for the rural poor in Appalachia, some of the most talented and generous people I’ve ever met.
Some days, I’m proud to get out of bed.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
What always keeps me embodied is how much I admire others, nature and writing. The seemingly limitless capacity of humans to create and to overcome.
Personally, I lost a beloved poet and soul mate in March, 2018 and she is doing her level best to keep me embodied. Also, I am particularly moved and inspired by the very young teenagers and adults working for effective change in the world.
Tell us a story.
No one answers. She calls again. The throatless stars don’t call back. How long has she been lying here? North of insomnia. South of sleepwalking. She’s not dead. Not dead.
She’d shut the porch light off to discourage moths because moths distracted her from thinking about Joubert’s Clothing Store and how tomorrow, she’d go down there and buy summer outfits for the girls. She loved to poke around that shop. Sometimes she’d come home and write lists of clothes she’d seen on the racks, and imagine which days of the week she’d dress her girls in them. If only Joubert’s would offer a lay-a-away. Maybe she would ask about it tomorrow she thought as she opened the screen door to go back in.
She must try to stay awake. Knows she must have lost consciousness and thinks: my girls are home alone. Or worse, they aren’t. Whoever did this to me could have gone back for them. That is why she decided to crawl to the roadside, which she would have told the officer if only her mouth would work.
Eileen Cleary is a graduate of Lesley University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and is at work earning a second MFA at Solstice. She co-founded the Lilly Poetry Salon of Needham, Massachusetts, and founded and edits the Lily Poetry Review. She’s a recent Pushcart nominee. Representative work is published or forthcoming in Naugatuck River Review, J Journal, The American Journal of Poetry and Main Street Rag.