If You Condense It All Tightly by Elizabeth O’Brien

Down to one microcosmic scape, the world wide
becomes the size of an apartment building,
one middling brick and ivy strangle-

hold. Or a phone in the hand
of a girl living there. It’s a finite data plan
with ever so many pages

still to open, and messages to send.
She is so very young
and locked out of her unit

after school. Look: she leans
out a lean arm, in salty
half-recline on the lobby bench, limply

waiting for her mother
to come home.
And the paint is wet, the stairwell doors

are propped open so air shafts in
cinders and spores from up
on the roof where quarreling lovers

assign each other new names,
the streetlamps punking below
as they forget their own.

The lovers finally
retire all hard feeling. The world’s fixity
has always been a gamble.

The oils won’t completely dry.
What previous tenants
tacked to the wallpaper

gloms the lilied mouldings
and brick dust and cobblestones
fake reparation

or prize the decor
up with a crow bar.
Everything is always new

and the elevator skips
thirteen up

from the mezzanine,
hums a gurgling
cranked out exhaust letting sharp on the s’s.

On three or four an old codger
c-backed, uneasily
eyes himself

in his half-fog
mirror flecked with toothpaste.
He slaps his cheeks, really

feeling their wet meaty humming
for once. Time is nothing. If it’s not
nailed down, it’s free. It turns out

virtue is relational
and every wall unfixed, every last one is held up
by the next. In one minute thirteen people search the web.

Seven unzip. One orders a cake by phone
for a child’s birthday. Feeling is
too hard. Every minute something busts

a fuse or a screen
cracks, decomposes
in swirls of injection molded toys, swans,

walnut shells. Lovers
sleep in their hangovers, sweating
off their makeup and when they wake, start over again

gushing this time I’ll be good
to you.
A bulb

can outlast the drought somehow, maybe
a whole planet can. But if you can
pry it up, it was never nailed down,

so skip the search:
I’m feeling lucky.
The elevator, its interior filigreed and mirrored

clicks shut its double gates to shield what’s inside
though it will open again
and again, always ready to light up and load,

take anyone on and go again, climb up
up up again.
The girl, so young, sooo bored

unwraps a candy valentine
crinkly noising the plushed hall, she
tongues it in her mouth, clacking her teeth

she taps out Iloveyous
between her fingers, a little
where are you

that drops off the screen and now

Elizabeth O’Brien is the recipient of a Minnesota Emerging Writers’ Grant through the Loft Literary Center, and the James Wright Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including New England Review, The Rumpus, and Ploughshares. She currently lives and writes in Minnesota, and her first chapbook, A Secret History of World Wide Outage, is forthcoming from Diode Editions in 2018.

Previous                                                                            Issue Twenty                                                                            Next