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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

half-heard, slithered

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.

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