Just when you’re squinting at the light
in the hospital cafeteria, trying to lasso a sentence
around how it limns your–what? sadness?–
a boy sits at the next table over and says: “Why
can’t I be a daredevil when I grow up?”
His mother slides into the seat beside him,
sets down their tray of food. “Your heart
was someone else’s first,” she says.
He frowns, old enough to suspect
this means his dream will float forever out of reach,
too young to know how to lower his hand. He asks:
“Will my new heart learn to love pizza
the way I love pizza?” “I’m sure it already does,” his mother says.
“What if my new heart loves pineapple?” “I’m sure it won’t.”
And then, just when you can’t take it any longer,
can’t stand any more soggy stir fry or football scores or grocery lists,
the boy says: “How does my new heart already know to love you?”
His mother folds a napkin over her calzone,
tells him he has to eat to keep his new heart
strong. Your legs carry you to the exit,
up the elevator, into the blue room.
You tiptoe to the aquarium of glass and steel
where your baby girl is busy breathing
the air of her fourth day.
Across the pane your breath spreads its tablecloth.
In its bloom you draw the word: “Hi.”
You dot the “i” with a lopsided heart,
which leaks, then disappears.
All My Friends Have Great Taste in Music
My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it.
-St. Augustine of Hippo
All my friends have great taste in music
so they would probably blanch at my soul,
which is similar to a terrible pop song
in how it began with a warbled, acapella note
ferried forward by the clubhouse beat
of this grinding, sweaty-allegro rhythm
I call my pulse. My soul is shameless,
lousy with saxophone solos,
each a Cutco-edged elegy for life-
slicing moments of grief or glory–
first kisses beneath Galveston piers;
serrated hours inside my newborn’s ICU room.
Friends, forgive me the tribal drums of love
that thump against my ribs when I think of you.
Forgive me the occasional anecdote
delivered as a rapping breakdown.
Forgive me for never saying what I want to say,
like how when I mumble ‘forgive me’ I really mean
‘let’s dance.’ If your soul is a sparrow,
perch it on my shoulder, let’s dance.
If your soul is a sealed black box,
let’s lift it from smoldering ruins, bless it
with a lower lip bit, a cabbage patch, a sprinkler,
a shopping cart, a too-lifelike robot, a self-mocking
Macarena. Let’s dance. Put your hands in the air,
because you care, you really do; in fact maybe
my soul isn’t a terrible pop song at all, maybe it’s a club
and you’re raising the roof inside me, you’re making in me
more space, unhooking my red rope, ushering
a few more folks in. What good is a fire code
when the max occupancy is yes? Let’s dance.
Let the lyrics of my soul be the names of those I love.
Let my past become a myth of a silent, empty room.
Love Letter with Facts
There is a lake so terrifically polluted
a flock of geese landed in it
and dissolved like Alka-seltzer tablets,
but this is not why I am writing you.
I am writing you because some bacteria
found only in geese
feast on the poisons in the lake,
so in the far future it’ll be potable again.
I’m writing you because a million light years away
two black holes are shuffling around each other
in a billion-year slow dance,
and because there is an island in the Pacific
three times the size of France
made entirely of garbage.
I am writing you because
no man was an island
until there was an island of refuse,
in which case I am a tiny island nation
thirsting for anthem.
I am writing you because my brain
hoists thoughts of you like flags,
because your every ‘hello’ sucks my hand to my heart.
I am writing you because one time we slow danced
in pajamas, real slow, garlanded by our bodies’ hum, celestial music,
our separate gravities looping into each other
like the rings of a stage magician,
and I know birds keep flying into my body and dying,
I just needed to write you to say
thank you for your stupid hat,
your ugly cargo vest, your tackle box
tangled with inside jokes and touch.
Daily you cast that line into me, and daily I am grateful
for the way you are sure this time, this time,
you will pull up something bright.
Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, most recently in Flapperhouse, Cotton Xenomorph, Superstition Review, Nimrod, and Cease, Cows! He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.
Artwork by: Alexis Avlamis
Alexis Avlamis (b. Athens, 1979) is a painter influenced by the Surrealist’s Automatism. His work juxtaposes existing visuals with fabricated ones, leading to cosmographic mindscapes. His work has been exhibited and published internationally and is a Laureate of the International Emerging Artist Award in the Drawing and Illustration category.