Sarah A. O’Brien

Highway Shoulder Shrug

“The words are getting caught in his moustache,” you opine as we drive toward empty silences and full-bellied laughs, toward loud critiques and quiet exultations, check-out lines and check-in times. As Croce continues to croon, we pass an orange LEFT SHOULDER CLOSED. “But the right one’s open!” we say together; my head lands on your shoulder. I used to collect lovers like seashells, discarding them as they broke. You are breakable. You’re the first domino to fall, first to cry as credits roll, first to use that word “love” on a Sunday after making it. While you attempt to decipher enigmas trapped in Jim Croce’s moustache, I attempt to understand how a beautiful you ended up with a walking contradiction sitting down, wingless flight risk, lactose intolerant chocolate milk lover like me. 

When You're Older

we may never know why
our mother keeps company
with coffee mugs of hard liquor,
staring deeply into nothing while
humming self-composed tunes
that sound like the offspring of
a funeral hymn and nursery rhyme
each night after Dad goes to sleep.

we may never know why
the neighbor keeps his lights off,
door closed to trick-or-treaters,
and yet, whenever he sees us,
he waves and says, “hi there,”
before returning to a dark house
with a driveway fit for three cars,
donning just the one.

we may never know why
some give hugs to oncoming trains
and how others can cry without tears,
go about giving a bit of themselves,
each day, to the grey mouth of guilt,
which spits them out into sleepless
evenings spent consulting microwaves
for answers to questions unasked. 

Tourist Season

we watch armies of retreating fiddler crabs
while you refer to sand beneath our feet
as the “graveyard of the sea.”

we debate the emotional lives of canines,
and cruelties of keeping prairie dogs
locked in china cabinets.

we drive despite eyes half-mast,
“you’re my world,” you proclaim,
handing me our mangled umbrella.

we race to make the bus, but then,
beating it there, I decide instead to
hold you in my arms one more night. 

Pale & Awkward

“you look like a ghost,” people would proclaim when I was living.
did I mention: I’m a ghost now, not just ghostly pale, pallid, pastel.

we become what people believe us to be.
mother alleged I was awkward, so that’s what I was when I was living.

wanna hear a ghost story? that’s my go-to these days—
since I’m a ghost, and this is my story—get it?

I’m less awkward since I’ve become dead.
at least that’s my assumption, since there’s nobody
shooting me sorry stares in third-floor bathrooms
(was it so strange to dye my hair there?
mom would have killed me if I dyed at home)
and I can no longer trip on shoelaces, spilling
decaf coffee on disgruntled subway riders.

everyone wants to know how I died—
where was she? how old? what was she wearing?
people have a knack for asking the wrong questions,
focusing on mirrors while smoke holds their answers.
but, yeah, let’s humor the humans:
heart stopped at a Fourth of July picnic,
freed from life when a firework kissed me,
transitioning to a translucent thing.

never believed in ghosts before;
still skeptical—what do you call an existential crisis
of someone whose body no longer exists?
twenty-six and dating destiny, I died settling,
died discontented, died bored, waiting, wearing
ill-fitted jeans and a red t-shirt that made my skin
appear paler than usual. 

Sarah A. O’Brien enjoys dark chocolate and light wordplay. Sarah’s work has previously appeared in The Alembic, Every Writer, The Screech Owl, Snapping Twig, Ampersand Literary, Third Point Press, Unbroken Journal, Random Sample, and is forthcoming in Allegro Poetry Magazine. Follow her adventures: @fluent_SARAcasm.