Poems from Toti O'Brien


Her hair still strong enough—once solidly grabbed, tightly twisted—to make a decent rope. So intimately attached to her skull she could hang over the edge of a ravine, and not fall. Be saved—she is sure—if someone took hold of her hair, quickly spiraled it into a coil and pulled up.

The roots, see—though if you look at the discolored tip of a single specimen, it’s about a sixteenth of an inch long—aren’t shallow. They dive in, they probe depths unfathomed.

She remembers how he has tried to extirpate it when she was a child, unripe, un-experienced. How he has sneaked into the deforesting process, attacking a few strands at a time, unexpectedly, often during the night. How he has grinned at his hands holding the stolen booty—a shattered cobweb.

But his ambuscades didn’t leave marks. No bald patch. Just a little redness, a sting, memories of wounds invisible. Hair has a way to grow over, mix and match, masquerade.

And why did he wish to erode the proliferous bush, the wild little grove topping her head? She didn’t figure it out, busy escaping, as she felt a kind of responsibility towards that scrap of land entrusted to her care.

Hair mostly thrives on wind. Sometimes water… but this last can be forgone because hair feeds on sky, truly—all kind, overcast or cloudless. Hair, no matter its shade, metabolizes blue, gray, cool green. It vibrates at the speed of outer atmospheres.

Yet such freedom, such affinity with things light, immaterial, only enforces hair’s core quality of concrete sturdiness.

Should she fall—or be pushed—over a precipice, she could count on this extra limb, this appendix she has cultured against odds and ends. Like, let’s say, a potted plant of rosemary—drying and resprouting in turns—she would carry from a rented room to the next. Amorously, window to window to window.


I don’t know what damage I’ve done

with these clumsy hands and dumb fingers.

But I wish your life

won’t resemble mine.

May you never wake among ruins

aware they tried killing you

yet they didn’t finish the job.

Killed and missed, every night

whenever you lower your guard.

I hope, son, the curse

won’t run in your blood

hope you didn’t drink it with milk

get stained by contagion.

Hope I didn’t pass you the plague

I carried from far.

This repeated murder of self

by shooters unfit for the task

by thugs who hit and run

leave you breathless

do not even say who they are.







stayed my



When it



finds me



had to breathe


(deep waters

sharp-toothed fish

dancing shadows)

spilling pink



tiny rivers

drawing beautiful


* * *

and me (bony auriga)

with hands



About Toti O’Brien

Toti O'Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Heavy Feather, Triggerfish, The Almagre Review, and O:JA&L.


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