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layered transformations 2019 felix o’connor


There is a cowboy walking across the barren landscape of the desert in the lingering heat of the mid-night. He’s holding a gun in one hand arms raised high whistling a song no one but him remembers the words to, taking aim at the sky. Forehead smells like sweat teeth stained from tobacco he slides his finger onto the trigger and cocks back the hammer. He pulls the sleek weight of the metal towards his body bullet fires from the chamber with a deafening crack like his cow boy whip shooting straight up til gravity takes hold pulling it down hurling right back at him, spreading his lips into a wide grin the cowboy opens his mouth and catches the bullet between his teeth.


burning grass in all white, blinding flame against the mirror of self this is restlessness, keeps you on your feet we’re dancing now, a quiet waltz spinning bodies like that of celestial giants but it was fatal, faded to black the blanket of the cosmos you’re sitting in your teenage room, in your teenage dreamland again before you knew the weight of loss, the weight of death and the weight on your shoulders was still there (you were never that lucky) but you weren’t as old, weren’t as worn down “everything is all bark til you cut down the tree” longing for silence, blindsided by misplaced hope tired of restless, tired of running, tired tired tired are we dancing or is this a contortion act? do open wounds heal if you can’t stop moving? moving too quickly for adolescence, you’ve been 30 since you were 13 aging happens faster when a catalyst is added, the gas pedal stuck to the floorboard you’re spinning out, your celestial body, grief wrapped around you like a blanket the field is on fire as the sun sets A narrator sits behind the scenes, passing onto you what was written by an unknown author what happens when the plot line falls apart?


COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE U REST. I saw an angel dressed in all black / I ignored every sign / I don’t think you ended up in heaven / the weight of your sins was heaver than I imagined / blood soaked stitches in your working hands / you killed a fragment of a small girl / her hopes beaten down / ignored every sign / your earth body was sickly / your soul was on the run / what road leads to heaven?


POWERFUL MEN KNOW OTHER POWERFUL MEN BUT THEY CALL IT WORKING HARD. YOU WANT AUTONOMY AND THEY WANT CONTROL. KEEP QUIET, DO NOT DISTURB. I WORK MYSELF INTO THE GROUND CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS – HAND IT OFF TO SOMEONE ELSE TO KNOW THESE THINGS. THEY CALL THIS FEELING IMPOSTER SYNDROME. SOME DAY I WILL KNOW THE VALUE OF WHAT I PRODUCE BUT UNTIL THEN LABOR IS AN ABSTRACT AND I AM GETTING THERE TOO. IT’S NOT FOR LACK OF TRYING.


History & those I choose to follow in their footsteps all focused on the body, the frailty & deterioration of the body and we’ve said that word so many times it feels lost in the mouths of generational registers, so much was lost to the vulnerability of bodies to the hands of a governing body poised to kill. A death suite composed with the sounds of queer bodies on fire it rings in my ears like gunshots scream I dream of blood pouring out of my mouth teeth sharp transformed into something wild, canine and howling let my body be a beacon on fury, of survival an altar for the sacrifice of those before me Whose bodies became involuntary war-zones, but I can’t stop myself from singing along, a passive rider unable to fight their wills.

Singing bodies, sounds from outside woke me from a dream where the sirens followed me into the moving world and they’re coming closer, lights dancing behind the house moving slowly through the dark gravel of the alley, someone’s world is ending and I am standing in my kitchen feeling the weight of a bite in my mouth saliva racing dripping down my throat I spit it out, someone out there is losing control my brain floods with images of EMTs in wood rooms, driving fast cutting wind like arrows towards the tense heat of an emergency room, my chest feels tight and pained its been days since I could breathe right the doctors told me to take Advil but my heart is beating slow, slower I know this is not normal like how every time I walk by even from the inside the neighbors dogs start barking I think they can smell the death on me, measured funeral march humming in the back of my gait – they know more than I do, holding fear still like a child.


when I kissed you for the first time I expelled a year of longing a sense of sureness rushed over me to be kissed and not feel owned was new, to be kissed and remain present within my body — I’ll chase that rush, if you’ll let me hundreds of miles away.


dust always settles; fall drifts under the cracks in the door without warning, every poem is a nature poem, is a poem for the season as it moves like bodies filing one by one through open doors into church on a Sunday morning, hoping to relieve their heavy hearts through communion with God Loss is a visceral object, carried through your flexor muscles taking the shape of hands at the altar Sunday tongues speak death poems in confession booths, distributing halos every year is an ouroboros, eventually the sun will circle around itself to swallow itself whole and we’ll stand together, hands together at the end of the world – I think it’ll feel familiar, like the warm breath of a psalm and the older I get the more everything feels like a mystery, not the other way around. The weight of air around us grows with age. Paint chips from the front porch of an empty house a slow and unstoppable death ritual. everywhere, it all comes back to prayer.


feeling gathers like dirt and grime behind earlobes, forgotten reminders in a mother’s voice a lot of lessons learned are retroactive in paving a route to god there was a need for an overlying organizing principle everybody believes in the illusion the howling wind of a thunderstorm sounds like voices from another world fragmented sentiments, hollow whispers prayer alters the autonomic systems in healthy ways a strong emotional response to anything can enhance the realness of an event flight fight freeze you’re sitting in the middle of a glass desert everywhere you look is a mirror and you want to stop looking melting down, the heat presses against your throat fist through reflection you run until the heat wins and you’re spiraling surrounded by the fragmented glass and desert sunset on a deathbed, waiting to be reborn, how can you? how can you imagine movement when you’re sitting there picking each glass shard from your punctured skin, you’re bleeding out and it blends into the red dirt, everything becomes another then, fade to black.


I don’t remember exactly when you stopped answering the phone, but I know that it was a longer time ago than either of us care to admit. I am walking across a college campus in the warmth of a lingering summer breeze in true autumn, the sun is bright and shining and reaching its midpoint in the sky. There are people everywhere soaking up all of the good weather they can before the inevitable Ohio rainfall that is to come – the leaves on the trees are turned inside out, an omen that the weather will change soon. I hear the sound of my boots against the sidewalk as if I am hearing them from another room as I walk past someone sleeping lazily under a tree, using a book to shield their eyes from the light. I am in a movie, one about the quintessential college experience, one I somehow stumbled into the casting of and have yet to figure out my role. The sound of construction hums in the distance, the sound of this school eating the city alive. If I leave here I know that I will come home to the loss of all that I have known I arrived. It has already begun. I have watched the buildings cannibalize themselves and become high-rises. Soon the height of the architecture here will collapse in on every pedestrian, innocent or guilty. I am running from the hunger sounds of building materials, poised to drive away those who need a sense of belonging. My classes all take place within a block of where you work. My feet get stuck in the wet concrete of newly poured sidewalks. I am laid bare for all to see.


An ache in the chest, jaws wide open singing to empty wrinkles in the bedsheets like ripples in a field of alfalfa grass the dull sting of a blade that no longer serves hands full of thistle from the season’s harvest good morning from another world you’ll be here with us one day, smiling in restoration. so much is lost in the soft spaces between silence and the sound of your own breath, uninterrupted by another. blight takes over a field of crops in the apocalypse ridden atmosphere, workers’ hands pull up root systems that don’t serve to help any longer in order to preserve what’s left, for the collective future. the earth respires with us, in and out it’s easy to resist the give and take when loss spreads its fingers holds yours like it was meant to be. whatever is written in the stars isn’t destiny if a hazy cloud covers our atmospheric vision. however painful it may be, we must exhale.


pause, for a moment sentimentality here it leaves — we move on.


a countenance more in sorrow than in anger “nothing has changed” the enemy has become a reduction, it’s easy to be furious in any direction no matter how misguided. we’re all afraid and longing for return. To home, imagined or real or taken from us. To get there is a gift, growing in place of what was before, a row of palm trees sways in the wind. Becomes like a metaphor for the longing of return pennies drop into the basin of a shopping mall wishing well. This feels like a last chance, holding on to a childlike hope that change wont die in a vacuum chamber, or in the hands of someone wealthier than you. We’ll resume, with a healthy dose of realism anger ebbs and flows, like tides or the seasons change will come, as it always does but the outcome, or who will be hurt in its path is to be determined.


I am preoccupied with the notion of space, salt bleeds water from the body, sours with time, and the idea of taking up too much space, this body of mine told forever to be less large, less looming, more quiet, more soft but in fighting for and against that I doomed myself made myself harder, tougher, more worn like the way that roads swallow themselves in harsh winters falling into Midwest potholes growing like mushrooms sporadic, cavernous, gutting You’ll fall in, fall deep unless you learn to see the signs riding along this life like a bucking stallion an endless cycle of emptying and filling.

like muscle memory sitting in between the back of my tongue and my gag reflex this is a generational poem, passed from my grandmother’s grandmother down the line we inherit the things our parents hesitate to tell us about I dream of adolescence, rather than the ten year old hyper-fixation on curvature, the croonings of weighing matriarchs I want to chip away at my body like I am a cold stone statue, ignoring the statues I mirror, rip myself from art history’s cannon and become scarce we’re never far from famine fed by the bloodied hands of our mothers.


(I) marked by the lack thereof, a negative feedback loop neurobiological whispers recycle themselves, wearing down hope like rocks under water or wind I spend night times dreaming of the end of the world they say that right before you die you see the light at the end of the tunnel floating upwards, shining from above we spend lifetimes searching, hoping, longing the driving force for being like the rising of fragile green blades through unwanted March snowfall no one can say for certain that is, whether this very feeling runs through veins, comes from the swallowing of sugar pills or of looking routinely into the space between closed palms pressed near the face the songs sung by birds ring in your ears like a pleasant tinnitus they’re singing for better days. (II) I’ve spent many years of my life waiting to feel better I’ve spent many years wanting, waiting to die and, despite it all – to wake up every morning – that is hope. (III) there is something I see when I’m asked to dream, mountain hollers, a return to something once lost where time is marked again by passing of the sun into earth, rising again in the morning above the mountainside this is my light and my tunnel this is a ritualistic end, a hymn by birthright the air breathes dopamine into my lungs these are the better days.


these are the better days.

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layered transformations  

collection of poems from 2019.

layered transformations  

collection of poems from 2019.

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