By Jackie Sheeler


I’ve lived by myself since 1993, cracking
jokes about the singular life:
my way of whistling past the graveyard.

In the beginning, I felt freed—
no more lies, no more toenails
in the bathroom sink, plenty of milk
for morning coffee. But now,

I’m playing a solo when I want a duet
and sometimes I think anyone would do.
Other times, no one. I haven’t sculpted

a space in my days for a lover to slide into
because I don’t want to watch it while it’s empty,
like sleeping every night beside a ghost,
or setting an extra cup on the table

for the absent guest, like a Passover jew.
It’s easier to act as if my private music has absorbed me.
As if I wouldn’t have it any other way.


JACKIE SHEELER is a native New Yorker, an award-winning poet, a blogger, a vocalist, and a renegade. She was named Poet Laureate of Riker's Island for her volunteer work with young inmates, and her first collection of poems, The Memory Factory, won the Magellan Prize from Buttonwood Press in 2002. Her second book, Off the Cuffs, Poems by and about the Police, was published by Soft Skull Press in February 2003. She recently published a chapbook, to[o] long, with Three Rooms Press and her poems often appear in literary journals such as New York Quarterly, Phoebe, The Ledge, Rattapallax, Slant, and others.

Much of her work has been recorded, and CDs from her first band, Talk Engine, still sell briskly on CDBaby. She has performed on radio and TV, at Symphony Space, Vassar College, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Knitting Factory, the Austin International Poetry Festival, The Bowery Poetry Club and hundreds of other venues nationwide. She presently blogs at www.getangrywithme.com and uploads new Wordrock recordings at her music page www.reverbnation.com. Jackie spends more time than she should on Facebook, and always welcomes new friends. Stop by and say hello sometime!

7 responses to “Solo”

  1. […] week we offer you poetry from such varied talents as Iris Berry, Jackie Sheeler, Lisa Johns, Kenneth Shiffrin, Jerome Dunn, Doug Knott, and this week’s Featured Poet, Michael […]

  2. Diana Manister says:

    A very fine portrayal of absence! Thank you Jackie! Diana

  3. thanks for taking time out to read this one, diana. i wish it didn’t resonate so strongly for so many women of our generation. well, that’s one price we pay for living in NYC, it seems.


  4. ryn says:

    wow. i hear ya! beautiful. haunting. favorite line is about the passover jew. not jewish but my grandma used to set an extra place at her table ever festivity, too. the phantom that never comes.

  5. Cyndi Dawson says:

    This so sharply highlights the ‘survival’ lies we tell ourselves when what we really crave is that duet. To have someone listening to our ‘graveyard whistles’, or another body across the table sharing a cup of coffee.
    You feel things with tremendous sensitivity, Jackie. Your work reflects this in its honesty.

  6. Vicki says:

    Wow! This is so well said, Jackie. I feel comforted that I’m not “the only one” who experiences this lonely and scary dichotomy. Wanting someone to be here, not wanting to spend the energy and time to make that happen, as though I could. Sometimes wanting a warm body and an understanding ear, but what about the times I want to be alone, and how could I find someone who really “gets” me, and who likes sleeping with dogs as much as I do?

  7. thanks to all for your wonderful comments on this poem. this kind of work, and your response to it, makes loneliness just a bit less lonely… it’s sort of “loneliness in community”. magic.

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