today my coworker Brian touches me without my permission
& I imagine rending his head from his body
with my bare hands / I can blame the impulse
on a customer / Joe always asks what scary
thing I’ve done to myself today / I always answer
in movie titles // in The Exorcism of Emily Rose
the shadows may or may not be misfiring synapses / in House of the Devil
the shots are all too dark & the cuts too slow / in the OG House on Haunted Hill
the wife jokes “remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?” / or maybe
it was the husband / it doesn’t matter who / what matters is the graveyard
of PBR cans on my nightstand & that I’m watching every gore franchise
out of order purely to avoid leaving the house

I’ve gotten so good
at pretending to be social nobody believes me when I say
I’m terrified of talking to strangers // in horror movies
the girl who opens her mouth is usually left
coughing blood across a windshield or down a drain
or into her own hands

last week I watched Oculus & only liked the siblings
when they got unstuck in time / they were children & then adults
& then both & then neither / the sister stabbed her fiance with a broken plate
& I think that was my favorite part especially because it was never clear
if he was actually a person / I’ve been engaged three times

& all my fiances are dead

because I say so / or because they were already / it doesn’t matter
which one / I’ve gotten so good at dating the dead
I don’t know how not to / Joe is a beautiful zombie
& I am unable to speak zombie so I tell him I hated Oculus except
for the unstuck in time parts // my new favorite thing to yell at my boss
is that I’m unstuck in time / I used to just tell her
I’d eaten anything she couldn’t locate / like a child
might say to an adult who’s really just a giant
child / I don’t like how childish I get at work / I ask my boss
if it might be possible for her to talk to Brian regarding
the scary thing I’ve done to myself by not telling him to stop touching me //

I open my mouth too much & suddenly
I’m telling Joe about being really truly afraid of a thing
not involved in a haunted flashback or jump scare sequence / I ruin the shadow
I was hiding in / I’ll have to find another // Joe asks me what scary
thing I’ve done & I say woke up

in the horror movie version of my life
I wear a t-shirt that says BAN ALL MEN / I quit my job by chewing all the plates
into sand & then burying myself with it / I tell my boss to tell Joe
his eyes are mahogany I’d like to burn over but I can’t love him
because I have always been dead / I survive everything
& my punishment for opening my mouth is the sequel


Emily O’Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her recent poems and stories can be found in The Journal, Redivider, and Washington Square, among others. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize. She is also the author of two chapbooks: Celeris (Fog Machine, 2016) and You Can’t Pick Your Genre (Jellyfish Highway, 2016). She teaches writing at the Boston Center for Adult Education and edits poetry for Wyvern Lit. Find her @tabernacleteeth or

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.