top of page

Toti O'Brien



Dad, you’ve been a jerk but

believe me, I forgive. You’ve been bad 

but thanks for this bucket of nerves

this basket of snakes, this old rotten hand 

you passed down. There are goods 

and talents in it. I’ll manage them right.


Mom, what is your gift? 

I can’t see it—it’s pitch dark. 

Mom, what did you leave?

Did you keep it all for yourself?

Buried into your grave as for 

a mighty Queen, Pharaoh’s daughter.


Here I am with this empty dress

I’m washing and pressing with vain

Cinderella’s care—a relic, a wrath 

the flower you once were, Mom. 

Dragonfly wing. Dried up lizard skin. 

Remainder of beauty. Received.

4 Elementary Poems for B. Collins



One is the floor under my soles. Call it mother earth if you like.

These white kitchen tiles, as cracked as if laced with a maze of spider webs.

How naively I envisioned changing them when I first moved in.

How I pondered options, went places, collected samples, compared then     selected colors, forgot.

I grew fond of these smashed tiles after mopping them a thousand of times.

I can name each of their random wounds.

Can name, do not notice anymore. 


Two is the soaked sponge I use to do floors.

On my knees I find it more restful.

I watch closely, making sure I understand how water works:

wiping off, carrying away, bringing things back to their beginnings.

I like washing my feet into the sink, then I towel them as if I were Jesus Christ.

I sweep an ice cube all over my face when I wake up, my skin cells thirstily     drinking its cool.

There’s a blue swimsuit in one of my drawers, printed with tiny white dots.

I haven’t gone to the beach since when I was sixteen.


Three is when I took fire. I mean my shirt did.

Fake corduroy, blue with tiny white dots.

Just the sleeve. Grandma screamed then hit my arm with a rag. 

Did she save my life? I was neither hurt nor scared. 

I was young for taking care of many simmering pots. 

And too short. 

I’ve learned since to be cautious around the back burners. 

I’ve learned how to tiptoe.


Four is wind, spreading flames over the hills every summer.

The fire truck arrives late, still welcomed by emphatic cheers.

I am told not to shed tears over stubs of charred trees.

Tears won’t make them grow back, but new trees will grow.

Fires happen, I am told. Just steer clear of flames, especially when wind is at   work. 

The small hut where dad stopped for a breather—I kept climbing

is a blast of maimed tiles on scorched bushes. Where did the walls go?

The sea, now completely unveiled, comes closer and closer.

The sky is swallowing me.

4 elementary poems
bottom of page