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Toti O’Brien: Alterations of Inner Atmospheres

Image: Unsplash, downloaded ( 11.12.2021.


So, what did the forks say, she was asked.

Not just forks, she replied, but all the silverware.

Perhaps, forks in particular. Problem was

she couldn’t make out the words, and it didn’t matter.

She could not because the voices were distant.

Somehow loud, but remote. Simultaneously shrill

and soft, those voices were turned backwards,

as if speaking of something that occurred and

she should know about, perhaps she should fix.

The voices seemed to beg. Rather helplessly.

Sharp, insistent but small, trapped among

the prongs of the forks like hair stuck on a comb.

Those voices had long hair, corkscrews, curls,

floating ribbons moved by the breeze

across distant skies filled with swallows.

Voices, like the voice of the swallows.


She was asked, what did the swallows say?

She couldn’t hear words, just the exhilaration.

Swallows, she knew, talked about the future.

Future plans. Departure. Return. Mother leaving

and coming back, said the swallows, picking up

fragments of what the forks (all the silverware)

said already, as if echoing rhymes of a song

played by an obsolete radio set. Maybe

an advertising for milk. As if they (the swallows)

recalled an old tune and screamed it out loud,

louder, louder, drunk with spring and sunshine.


I decided to say goodbye to the bedlands

with their dull song of litanies

and myth making,

with their pious images of mastectomized

virgins who used to bear my name,

tall paintings in dark frames

vanishing through the ceiling.

Bedlands of brass hand bells

the master used to shake, one stroke

for the maid, two the wife, three

the teenage daughter. Headboard

of golden globes the maid polished

so hard that no lamp was needed, even

when all the drapes where hooked closed.

Golden globes, one of them indented

so deep, a knuckle must have hurt it full force

while missing its target, or else bitten

by the long teeth of an angry nightmare.


I decided to leave when, crawling

under the bed as I chased my slipper,

I found the tiny lid of a trap

leading to the basement,

climbed down a few steps

crossed a subterranean expanse

paying no heed to sharp whistles

and lugubrious wails trying to mystify me,

uttered by old daguerreotypes, broken toys,

unborn babies, sad kittens.

I run towards the grate I saw atop

the armoire, firmly intending to reach

daylight, bathe into crisp air, sunbathe

head to toe.


Goodbye to the bedlands, their witches,

werewolves, skipped heartbeats,

susurrus and murmuration.

And those temblors causing the curtain

to shiver and curl when no wind,

not even the slightest breeze was around,

alterations of inner atmospheres

only bedlands could nurture and host,

those temblors, those temblors, were gone.

About the Author: 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), and In Her Terms (Cholla Needles Press, 2021).


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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