You ease pain on an upward curve
then you let it slide downwards
taper into rainbow shreds as it meets
the horizontal plane of the mattress.

Alarm clocks go off at strange hours.
You sleep in sections and segments
freely stitched across days and nights.

You used to play games with time
refusing to take it seriously
your watch always a pun, a charade
requiring sums and subtractions.

Mother liked to say time didn’t exist.
Though she gave it the cold shoulder
time still carried her away.

A quick glance at the clock, as you cross
the sill between sleep and wake
lifting your foot high as if overstepping
a thin, treacherous thread.

Time is around the corner
sitting quietly on a stool, holding
in its hand an old dusty monocle.

In each nook and cranny of the labyrinth
vendors have set their booths
bedecked with multicolor neon lights
tracing the word Exit in big, shiny characters.

Behind their flickering stands
in the shadow, lurk tall chalky walls
compact, damp, impassable.

In the background, dulled by a clatter
of bells, carillons, recorded birdsong
you hear the monotone wail
of the Minotaur.

Like a newborn calling for milk
from a remote chamber, like a newborn
it calls. Awake and alone.


And those beans she spilled
when the satchel she held tight
against the broken bone
fell apart.

Warmed up near the stove
like in ancient eras, the beans
keeping hot like miniature embers.

When the linen wore and tore
the beans trickled out, gaily
scattering under blanket and sheet
rolling across the bed
like kids in a courtyard.

Let them go. Let them go.
May the pain be released as well
she sighed
as if reciting a magic formula.

They would do no harm
would not hurt her body
should she involuntarily crush them
while sleeping.

Wouldn’t disturb her dreams
as the single pea troubled those
of the princess.
She was made of a thicker grain
than royalty is.

A slight scent of charred wood
soothes her nostrils
souvenir of roasted chestnuts
sold in cones of brown paper
gracing cold winter nights.


She said, everything
is sliding of squares
rubbing each other’s surface
tiny cutouts of paper
ready to be plied
into magical shapes.
Everything is a game
of square sheets
of tissue paper
sometimes forming
as they briefly overlap
an oblong, a stripe of thicker
consistency, an enclosure
where shadow is gathered
an illusion of merging,
of weight.

Don’t be fooled, she said
by such fleeting moments.
They are impermanent.
Those ethereal plates
relentlessly shift.
It is in your interest
she insisted, to ease
their motus continuus
with your own smooth rotation
to the right, to the left
following the tides.

Don’t oppose. Spin
at the leisurely pace
of the changing season
of revolving planets
geological eras succeeding
or mutating DNA.
Twirl as slowly as a faucet
leaks an invisible drop
the smallest flake of a tear
dampness evaporating
before meeting the china
of the sink.

You shall orbit that
cautiously, careful
not to rush or resist
bridging over hiatuses
unafraid of the occasional
chasm, of its chill
rising from under ground.
You won’t fall. It will not
devour you. Trust
the mountains and creases
of the paper, fold
yourself along the lines
like a book, a fan
like a parasol.

Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), and An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise Press, 2020).