Elizabeth O’Brien

Jealousy's the stuff

Your mother was chlorophyll.
She built you from all the light she could get
and she painted your little engine yellow and green.
She wound you up to tick around the track
and grow your arms and legs. She knew it was a feat,
what she’d done, but still when she looked

out the window to see what the sun could do,
she panged sharp with jealousy. It’s a fact:
even one who makes the most heavenly art from sheer light
will envy whoever makes the light itself.
This is the condition of things.
But as the saying goes, people

in hell want water. The sky scissors its finest spring dress
to shreds as soon as we try it on, and Mercury
has no water. Venus has vapor, a moist breath
perhaps, but no water. Mars, ice: no water there, either.
But Earth has millions and millions of liters of the stuff;
its seas are rich with fluorine, chlorine, radium, vanadium,

magnesium, selenium, sodium, zinc and gold,
steeping its sea squirts and fish in fine health.
Still, don’t think for a second the seas haven’t noticed
what the moon’s up to
behind that sweetly pale face and silvery fluff,
which is why they slosh around the bowl in fits of pique:

the moon’s been creeping off all along, slow but steady,
an inch and a half a year, like nobody’ll notice,
like it’s no damn cause for a fuss. But the seas,
they yearn to spin out, too.
Given half a chance, they’d untether
just like that, and edge away

like the moon, on tippytoe, out into space
where there isn’t any water. Even tiny dinoflagellates,
those little guys bobbing along the seas
with their leggy whips like wimpy threads
wound and cut from spools smaller than the drop
that spat it all forth, even they wish for legs or mouths or

just one more goddamn cell. Raw jealousy is exhausting. It’s
hell. It’s a vast undertaking, truly, but it’s what we’ve got
to work with, to channel like so much water.


Originally published in December Magazine



You ask what's the racket so I say

Variation’s the only irreducible
essence and belief
is a houseplant.

At the end
of the astral tunnel of appliquéd stars
and sprays of dust

waits only a door
where a cross-stitched sign reads, “Please.”
God’s kitchen

counters are crowded
with stuff
of souls and light

in jars, snowlight, aurora borealis;

is a recipe in Latin
pinned to the wallpaper.
The window glass warps

hour by hour.
Time is a mayfly. Time
is a fossil and out there, Taurus

lifts spangled horns
and bellows,
big and gassy.


Original published in Soundings East


Elizabeth O’Brien lives in Minneapolis, where she earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Minnesota and served as editor of dislocate. She is the recipient of a Minnesota Emerging Writers’ Grant through the Loft Literary Center, and the James Wright Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her work—poetry & prose—has appeared in many journals and magazines, including New England Review, The Rumpus, Tin House, Wigleaf, Pank, Diagram, Radar Poetry,Revolver, Sixth Finch, and others.

Available for order at Diode Editions: