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  • Tobi Alfier

Five Poems

At the Manor House, Half Day’s Train from London

Cold stone floors and cold tile walls.

We stand by the stove and plan what to do

that will take us onto the earth and into the sun.


Berries are woven along the rusted fence line.

Along the way we find platter-sized mushrooms,

planted rows of radishes, carrots and beets,


and pastel eggs with yolks of marigold

from the chickens we run through the grasses to catch.

We hear the tinkling of laughter, realize it’s us,


rescued from the stern kitchen and the cook within.

Flowered limbs break forth beauty to line tables

and windowsills in rooms we’ll never see,


so we tuck what we find behind our ears,

smell the orange blossoms in orchards

too far for us to walk, fill pails as the mounting sun


warms our bones, finally relaxing shoulders

from their tightened places close to our ears,

our toes kicking up the smell of fresh grass.


Someone with a watch calls time.

We take our treasures back toward the house,

fill up our pails along the way back—


rosemary, long-stemmed cherries,

whatever can be found on the shortest distance

back as we surprise a flock of birds in the reeds.


We find our shoes by the pond, button back up,

display our bounty on long tables for the cook.

She always gets much praise, we get none.


But we got free for a moment. Whispered words

drift to me through the jasmine tucked

into my hair, a kind thank ye for the work


we didn’t know we’d done. We thought we’d escaped,

but with our keen and youthful eyes we’d brought

back gifts of everything that caught our light.

 
Inishbofin

for Donnie, James and Bronagh

Previously published in Pea River Journal


This is an island owned by wind,

with whistling chimneys and blowing

grasses. Where the blues and blacks

of the bay offer commerce, and the odd plaque

of tragedy—sea against somebody’s son.


Where the priest rides the ferry on Saturday.

An afternoon sermon ensures return to his own

congregation for Sunday. Where flowers explode

purple and gold, and clothes blow sideways on lines.


Where a climb atop any hill views water, sheep

and horses bony as life-sized pebbles.

A strengthened resolve to best any hardship

and many a story to prove it—in the pub, in the fields.

Guinness on draught and coal in the bucket.


A quiet island until you listen.

A family island, with stories of other families,

other islands, and how they all came to be here.

How they stay. Strong men and dear women.

They sing about leaving but they stay.

Now you have tea with their children,

watch their little ones in oiled jackets and rubber boots.


The boats. Trace the embossing on a ruined skiff

to learn it is named after a saint, not a woman.

The barns. Tin ceilings blind in today’s sun,

tomorrow they will play concertos in unforgiving rain.

The textures. Rocky, boggy. The corner of a house

worn away to reveal stone, the same stone that borders fields.

Cotton and clover. The dry brown of striped paths

through green. The dry brown of outbound tide.


A wondrous island. Bone-chilling cold, but still well-mannered

and welcoming. They sing about leaving but they stay.

 
The Poorest Bar in Town

We never know the loneliness

of anyone after last call,

living paycheck to paycheck,

one beer and leftovers in the fridge,

no one waiting in the bed.


Easy to toss back doubles,

ignore failures,

refuse bad things that happen

under the luminous moon

seen from every window.


Some come here for answers.

Some come for solace.

The hunched-over man comes

in out of the weather.

They speak of wishes they’ve yet to fulfill.


They head home, mostly alone.

Some for a good cry, a few

with someone who won’t withstand

the break of day. Another night

of those who go adrift.


Lost in the amber of streetlights

with moths that flicker

their unsuspecting death dance,

a brush of wind draws

everyone into silence.


 
One Perfect Day on the River

Previously published in Cholla Needles


A few hours of sleep

and she’s awake,

the glorious spring morning

full of nothing owed to anyone,

only debts to herself,

and her IOU’s are about

to be called in. With pleasure.


He waits outside

on the porch swing, a baguette

under one arm, coffee in each hand,

sparrows chirp and marshmallow clouds

float by. She brushes away

last night’s too-much booze,

wriggles into a bikini and pareo,

counts about fifty ones from the week

to spend on anything, and meets him

on the porch.


They step out into the clear day,

break the end off the bread

and throw it to the fish in the park.

They nibble on the rest, drink their coffee

and walk to the river

for a long loungey laze along

the water. The kayak boy takes the ones gladly,

he’s always in need of change,

doesn’t care where they came from.


They spend their day as pleasant as dreams.

Warmth of the sun like a brush of silk on skin—

they talk about everything and nothing,

listen to the quiet of the fields as they paddle by,

and watch the tides. They’ve both been caught

stupid downriver and that’s not how either

wants this day to end.


And end it does, as shadows flicker over fields

they head back toward her porch.

How long will she make him wait outside—

lust has always been unspoken between them.

She stands with a stillness he’s never seen,

says she can feel the coming-on of a sudden storm,

he’d best come in, no sense ruining a perfect day.

 
Swaying in Echoes

Days from a new moon

he went back to where it all began.


The oak where he carved her name,

the scar that sits on his palm to remind him.


Dawnlight in her hair,

her small laughter as she put his blood


to her lips.

The thin cloth of her dress,


let’s remember this forever, she said.

It all came back like yesterday,


in fact it was ages ago.

Forgotten songs rang out of memory.


The sharp remembrance of kisses with restless lips.

Breathing the green of spring grasses


while dancing.

Beautifully hurt by the world


but still beautiful,

the air shimmers in the quiet reach of the sun.

 

Tobi Alfier is published nationally and internationally. Credits include War, Literature and the Arts, The American Journal of Poetry, KGB Bar Lit Mag, Washington Square Review, Cholla Needles, The Ogham Stone, Permafrost, Gargoyle, Arkansas Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).



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