woman on fire

When life catches fire around the edges, who do you want by your side?

By Patricia O'Brien


“Mother’s Love is bliss, is peace, it need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. If it is there, it is a blessing; if it is not there, it is as if all the beauty had gone out of life.” – Eric Fromm

Patricia O’Brien is our mother, our bliss. In advance of Mother’s Day, let us all honor the beauty that all mothers give us. In celebration, we want to share insight into our talented mother’s life by her poetry.

Her precisely written poems remind us of how “continuously the world conducts a secret symphony” that she urges “to attend it before it’s gone.”

Two Loving Daughters  

Before It’s Gone

I used to suppose a grand enlightenment
would inform my life in one flash of brilliance –
forked lightning lifting the night,
a match struck unexpectedly in the dark.
Now I know it’s the common moths that
pattern their lives out in the windowpanes,
the loyal Labrador asleep at our feet,
the sequined lake trout leaping up.
Now I know it’s the glimmers
of kindness that keep the eternal
passing between us, even when the day
plays out of tune, when our nerves
are the taut strings of a violin,
when darkness creeps in
through crevices and keyholes,
wrapping us in its requiem.
Continuously the world conducts a secret
symphony; attend it before it’s gone,
gone by.   

Catching Fire 1973 Illustration by Jackie O'Brien

Catching Fire
(photograph, 1973)

You run up courtyard steps
wearing glasses, a striped tank top, a grin.
Pompeii’s ruins – an ancient playground
of arches, columns, open air porticoes.
Mt. Vesuvius rises behind.
We are tiny in its shadow.
I imagine the gray column of rage
mushrooming, a horrid surge racing
downhill, sudden shift in the texture of air,
neighbors scrambling with covers overhead,
children under arms.
You play hide and seek,
run into an antechamber. I leave you
there to rile you, where families waited
out the pumice only to be buried in a vault.
I hold the photo and think of us now -
You’re Microsoft, I’m Reader’s Digest,
both parents with children under arms.
We’ve had our apocalypses -
illness, heartbreak, friends dying young, twin towers
crumbling, sometimes solution and light.

If I were there, if it were a question of seconds,
my life catching fire around the edges,
ceiling falling like egg shells, who would I reach for?
You little brother. I’d take you under arm and run for it.

Judy's Garden Illustration

Judy’s Garden

Knife in hand, she leads us beyond brambles
to the garden air romantic with spice.
With a pitchfork she has conjured
the earth into gleaming particulars:
she stoops to cut heads of ruffled lettuce,
unsheathes fingerling potatoes from soil,
she snaps spears of asparagus,
an ensemble of pencils that write on light,
thumb-sized tomatoes that mouth hosannas.
Beets sit rowed like ruby Buddhas.
She presses these in our arms as we breathe
basil and sage.

On her porch, beside the lacework of hydrangeas
and shade of a cypress, an inch of Tuscany,
we raise our goblets, a liquid benediction
to the passage of the sun across the lawn
to the manna of damp roots and deep
places. She says while digging furrows
she plants her fears, put in prayers
and her voice, so no green goes unsung
in this garden, this open hymnal.   

Patricia O’Brien grew up in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. She received a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in teaching from Saint Joseph’s University, and a M.A. in Contemporary British and Irish Literature from West Chester University.

O’Brien’s poems have appeared in Daedalus, English Journal, Mad Poets Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Ink, Philadelphia Stories, and Philadelphia Poets. 

O’Brien won first prize from the John and Rose Petracca and Family Award for “Judy’s Garden” as well as an honorable mention for her poem “Before it’s Gone” from Philadelphia Poets.

O’Brien taught literature and rhetoric at Villa Maria Academy and creative writing at Penn State Brandywine. Currently she works as a care management associate for Aetna. She and her husband live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with their two daughters and chocolate Labrador.


Illustrations by Jackie O’Brien. She is a problem solver, who enjoys to draw. She’s passionate, and brings her enthusiasm to all.