Long before I was what I am now, short

of breath, bald, just returned with arthritic knees

from exile in another country’s muck and red

volcanic soil, too near-sighted to discern

the High Plains tumbleweed from the burning

oracular bush of myth, scorched now and silent,

long before this, I was the first son my mother

bore that lived. The first two were named,

baptized after they strangled blue and cold

in the stillborn canal. They died sinless, perfect

in the insistent push of birth, the incorrupt halo

of hospital lights.  Not me. I got pulled through

by the forceps in time to cut the cord, unwind

the noose of flesh from my fresh pulsing neck.


I can’t be sure when she first told me

this story, this incantation of lost brothers.

Maybe I was five or six. I heard it so many times

it swelled below my skin, a cyst adhering to bone.

We were walking on an unweeded path at the edge

of some woods a few blocks from the house,

the trees razed later for condos, a strip mall.

You are a miracle, she said. You will do great things.

I remember now the September grass wilting,

the dead leaves’ crunching veins underfoot.

From that day I’ve been lost, wandering,

only ever able to see the world as I wait for it

to be, not as it is—flawed memories, missed

signposts, a tattered map everyone else can read.


Steve Bellin-Oka has published poems in Cream City Review, Mississippi Review, William and Mary Review, and Yalobusha Review, among other journals, and has been awarded fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Hambidge Center for the Arts. He teaches at Eastern New Mexico University.

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