True and False
These are words, I said.
You are feeding me words.
They taste papery and brittle.
My heart is a fetus in its chamber
of blue. In its upside-down womb
it plays tambourine, digiting secret
codes with index and thumb made
of filaments. Never sleeps, my heart
busybody, yet quiet.
They are better than flowers, he
said. At least they don’t die.
But, I said, they crumble.
My heart is my father, short and squat
thick-skinned, curled, dark, sweaty
fond of color red, the tint
of its upholstered armchair, greasy
and caved in like an used nest.
The tint of his temper.
You are dressing me in words.
They are soft, he pleaded.
I said, they are inconsistent.
They come off at the seams.
They fall into pieces.
The tint of the jacket he wore, with
the scraped collar and a knotted cord
for a belt, father mad then innocent
compressed like a fist, like a bullet
gathered in his chair, father thinking
father of wrinkled brow.
I’ve heard the harsh note in the sound
the wren makes, calling from the fancy
bird clock displayed on the kitchen wall.
I heard it when I came close in order
to wash the dishes. I overstepped, breaking
into the sacred sphere of illusions.
I heard the hint of a croak under mellow
chirping, like the chopped staccato
of a barrel organ playing at a street fair.
I felt sorrow tinged with compassion,
as if glimpsing at the wrinkled cheeks
of a clown removing his make-up.
As if noticing the long tear in the trapeze
artist’s fishnet tights. And sweat pearling
her brow, when she finally alights.
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020), In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021), Pages of a Broken Diary (Psky’s Porch, 2022) and Alter Alter (Elyssar Press, 2022).