Three poems, Steve Bellin-Oka
When I was younger, women often
took me aside to say how much
I looked like someone else:
a dead lover, a son, a brother.
Some of my doubles wore glasses
or had the same oversized lips.
One hanged himself after dinner
in the garage. Another forgot
his lunch pail and went back
through a lumber mill’s door
minutes before the explosion.
Most just went to the drugstore
and never came back. Even now,
in line at a bookstore or a café,
a woman will search my face
and the last time anyone
saw me alive, I was standing
far off on the opposite side
of a train platform, wearing
a dark suit. Or else, in another city,
I was crossing a downtown street
against traffic, whistling a tune
half-remembered, half made up.
I think no: I can’t believe in it. First real
day of spring, I go out
into the imperfect world
still wearing a down parka when
everyone else is wearing
t-shirts or shorts & Charlottetown
is overstuffed with dogs & people
from the island’s edges shopping
for flowers or fresh mussels
& the café I write in is so full
I tuck myself in the far pocket
of a table where medical students
are studying for exams, quizzing
each other on healing times
for fragmented tibia fractures,
drug interactions & staph infection protocols
& now I am thinking my brother
must have stopped believing in God too
those weeks he lay in the state hospital
with no insurance, cramped in
among the beds clogged with the dying
discarded & their demented muttering, some
of them shitting themselves
waiting hours for an orderly
to come through the door from the dim
hallway & wipe them down
cursing, others staring through
the pus-colored walls at themselves
dancing at their weddings
some summer long ago & now
it is late afternoon when I look up
at my face reflected in
the café window, lined but
still recognizable & I think
yes, I have
abandoned him too
Three Fragments from East Webster Place
Those nights in October, the wind
began to rehearse its coming:
Lake Michigan broiled, swallowed
the jetties in a white
receding spray. Inside,
the windows of our house
rattled, intermittent, like
trapped glass snakes.
I couldn’t sleep and
something primitive, only
from your dream’s green mouth—
another man’s name.
I rose and stood
in the cold shadow
of the doorway, watching
your lips move in
a whispered, frightening sleep.
This is the apple. Take a bite.
The name was foreign, slurred,
rolled clear off your tongue
like a marble. All night then
I lay awake, listening for it
again, listening to the cold breeze
wrap itself around the bushes and
whip, like an eel, back
toward the lake. Juan.
It struck the floor and
was lost. Outside,
someone’s car engine
had gotten wet. It ground
on, like an illness, pulling air.
4 a.m. You hushed and laid
your hand against the wall;
bursts of remembered light
behind your eyelids pinwheeling.
The pine floors creaked
with a knowledge they were
forbidden to seek.
Steve Bellin-Oka is the author of a chapbook, Dead Letter Office at North Atlantic Station (Seven Kitchens Press, 2017). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Nimrod International Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Valparaiso Poetry Review, among others. He has been a finalist for the Tomaz Salamun Prize, the Autumn House Press First Book Award, and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, among other honors. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. He lives in Portales, New Mexico and teaches writing and film at Eastern New Mexico University. He is the poetry editor of The Bookends Review.