Liam O’Brien

Rest Lawless
(fragments from The Complete Home, Julia McNair Wright, 1879)

I don’t know about all these wonders. Dozens of cheap
little husbands, their severance from society—if they set about
being companions and friends, making companions

for themselves—in the back of the hall, wonderful
curiosities. With him, a relief. Great pleasure also to satisfy
his growing thoughts. Come in, trust me. Invent and contrive:

what a house it would be. A place for such work: a corner
of the wood. A place curtained off somewhere. No separate
room. A small room, a kitchen; a room with a stove

running through it. A boy like a girl. The boy is yours.
I remember one day: his new high silk. He had taken
the crown. He tried to straighten it: getting ready.

Setting the shoes in rows, observing. Making buttons, mischief.
Believe me, we must never weary. We must build them:
honesty, unselfishness, kindness. Rest lawless, become lawless.
Never grow up into citizens.


She Serves Variety
(fragmented from The Complete Home, Julia McNair Wright, 1879)

Not always of one kind: the kind a prelude. Here she serves variety,
nicely cut. The beginning is generally
of bones. A stone, the bones, trimmed closely out of the salt.
A cloth kept very cool. Almost every day, a few bones, and variety.

Clear, the spoonful, the few slices. The remnant shall not be cast out:
all these fragments are to go therein. They do follow, that nothing
be lost
. In one, a cup of milk. A slice, a saucer. Drink it up.
To have, to wash. The cake is given. The cup of milk, with an egg,

thickening. The cake is cut and laid. It goes. The white
of an egg, a little cream, a little wine. We eat it. Delicious! What dainty
people, thrown away, provided for. Not half so wholesome. Refuse
very little. The nourishing and richest lies closest to the skin.

Even a summer can be scraped, the skin pulled off with a knife:
this saves. The knife is sharp, the peel is very thin. The eyes are all.
How long the meat should last: made to reach that requirement.
A very small vessel will hold the waste. It is turned to further use.

Far less than we do, he prefers. The scraps kept for the purpose.
A handful serves, to be repaid. Less cost. Expect what is needed,
and nothing to be wasted. So many people live, made in that way.
I feel heart-sick when I see the mighty trunks and branches

rotting on the ground. The possible ruin, standing cedar. Waiting.
They call this a line. Swamps and barrens, fortune, fuel. Burned over,
in the burning. Every particle that will burn. Cord-wood, small branches,
twigs and slender bundles. A blaze, tied up. The mullen and thistle,

the bramble, carried into the city. The olive trees, the roots of dead
olives and vines, the vine and olive roots are gathered up.
To keep a fire, you wish. Go out: from the pine woods on the hills
are gathered resinous wagon-loads from the dark. Here living,

our waste. Trouble and sorrow bring in these kingdoms, bearing,
renewing themselves. By famines, plagues, by armies shameless,
they have been turned to use. The land cannot endure the drain.
An effort, a thrift and thriving, sacrificing time. In all our lives,

the duty on hand: its proper uses. It takes more time. Many things
kept to be useful. One must save ice. A close cover, every fragment,
scalded and scoured. A growth by seeds, the germs of decay. Like ice,
the bones. Keep that wet. A wet cloth, or a stone. A piece of meat.

All this is very nice to know. Far better, the spring-house. The freer air
and shade, closets and store-rooms. The need of keeping. Some people
will wonder why they taint so fast. Other people do not give
enough air. Too much light. Careful, our lower halves. The boys make

latticed shutters, bowed all day, in these places. Wire covers.
Things in deep basins of cheap red earthenware, carefully tied.
Some people did themselves more damage, and were not careful. Take
a stout cloth before the last end. Set into the ground, to rest.

I think any one is wasted, your hand left to rot, making hard and soft.
Wood ashes, always. Old bones do not lie around. No weeds
overgrow. The earliest are raised here. Saving, escaping, saving,
three times a day. The bridge which carried in little things.

There is a fire, left clinging. Scattering all the scrapings. Your life
is made of trifles. It costs me. The walls, the hard ones, doing
this work. A knife blade, broken, fasten. China, glass, and earthen.
Well enough to come: such things I keep. One must work quickly.

Fit for nothing else. I need it, always keeping muscle besides. Kept
corked, clam or muscle, ten times as good. I don’t send them,
I mend them. I mentioned a city. Nothing is like it. Looking
for black silk, your best, your house-plants. A little ammonia,

glass and silver, weaker for flowers. We clean them stiff. A half-pint
of warm water for our heads. Nicer, in a bath when one is very warm,
engaged in dirty work. Indeed, a hundred times. House-cleaning,
it saves soap, brushes, wood-work, windows. It is a grand thing,

after the dust has settled. It destroys.


LIAM O’BRIEN grew up on a small island. Some of his work can be found in the Denver Quarterly, New Delta Review, Hobart Pulp, and Nightboat Books’ forthcoming We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. He received his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and lives in New York.