Four Poems by Elizabeth O’Brien



The lesson is injury; its fletching is a misstep
that rips the whole
apart like segments of citrus,

the bitter pith between serenade and aubade
as I question the edges
of your very skeleton. Blooming platelets, every scar.

You know lately you’re no picnic,
your strike is more brownout,
less iron firing orange.

Behind love there is muscle, the tissue line
of the champagne bottle
you smashed in the street,

snapped its neck. Such power you carry:
spray your shirt and tape yourself up after,
like flesh is only the battlemap

marking where a body goes
ravaging lately.
Go: but if you’re free to rove,

don’t question the mattress. Carry on
reveling, continue your ravening.
Button will yearn to chew at a thread

but what’s it to you? Blood
oranges. Badly cut, but nothing
to apologize for. Under the skin

I’m feldspar and pyrite. You say
It’s just what we do: burst in the street,
but the aftermath is dark. The last stick

burned out. Injury and misstep! It’s grim
but the quiver keeps giving.
Even when a discordant note trills light,

still it falls off last, the cut that spiders the web
of your thumb will stay with you.
So go on

blasting, go on! Ravishing,
singe me one more time,
peel back my skin. Toss the glass.

But flunk down your coins
here on the counter.
I’ll take whatever you’ve got.



Whispered deep in a vein below ground. While others
became rubies or sapphires, you were lost

in the dark. You were play-voiced, but clenched
ripe in Earth’s jaw with every plant chewed small.

Each wash of rain a new burden, another reason
to believe you could wait. You were one of night’s

failed drawings, she crumpled you black;
tossed you aside. But let this be

a kind of fuel. If you cannot be sweet, be mild
like quince on a tree. If you must shear jagged,

burn slow. To be jealous is to be fueled. What’s left
is to love most. You are not the sicklepod

or the tickseed: you’ll bud only once and even then
your work is so easily misunderstood. The ground

has unbuttoned her ruinous coat but the passage
is narrow. When they finally come

to carry you off, leap from the railcar. Clear the tracks.
The world doesn’t relent: even when every witch

they burned in the end was just a girl,
the world never relented. You mustn’t either.

Elizabeth O’Brien earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Minnesota, and her work—poetry and prose—has been published by New England Review, The Rumpus, Diagram, Tin House, Ploughshares, Sixth Finch, Radar Poetry, Cicada, Best New Poets 2016, and elsewhere. Her first chapbook, A Secret History of World Wide Outage, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in 2017.

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