Poet of the Day – Toti O’Brien

National Poetry Month April 24, 2020

Toti O’Brien

As you vanish, unchecked
grasping frantically
at denial
(your trusted safety belt)
trying to resist sinking
on a glimpse of consciousness
you cannot tell your age
or mine, or today’s date
‘then’ you say
‘we should say farewell.
I might not recognize you
the next time around.’
‘Chances are you won’t, Mom.’
‘But you’ll love me nevertheless’
I would like to add.
Tears choke me.
‘You’ll love me’
my mind whispers
‘because of the cormorants
we watched from the riverbank.’
Your arm weighing over mine
as I pointed at dark silhouettes
long necks
wide wingspans.
You were all there, were you?
Enjoying the breeze
and my words.
When you’ll recognize me
no more, your body
—your nameless soul—
will recall the cormorants
and the afternoon sun.
Your arm will seek mine.
You’ll know I am a good thing
you can lean on.
First published in Mothers Always Write, 12/18

1.     What inspired you to write this poem?

My mother’s mental decline.

2.     What do you like about this poem?

It has a kind of immediacy, as I have realized when sharing it. Most readers can relate to its contents, and I like this porousness.  To me it has a quasi-foreboding quality, because of the insight that the body might recall and preserve affection even when the mind fails. Time has proved such tentative hope to be true.

And it refers to birds, which are one of the structuring elements of my work, life, identity.

 3.     What would you change about this poem?

Nothing. I am not a perfectionist.

4.     Where, when, and how often do you write?

I write in uncanny places, on uncanny supports and at impossible times. Essentially, I write when I have to write and it is always outside, in my car, in the street, in line at the register, in some hospital, airport or gas station. I polish my writing at my desk, in my bedroom, in the hours between 3 and 7 am, daily, 7/7.

5.     What poetry books are you reading right now?

I am reading little known or perfectly unknown living Italian poets whose work I want to translate.

Picture of Toti O'Brien