time, and time again

long before our time:
we were forbidden gentlemen,
sneaking held hands under coats
and hiding love’s passwords
in simple sentences.
my heart is a hummingbird
and your lips
are sweet as a hibiscus—

I wear the only suit I have,
you bought it for me because
my own was loose and moth-bit.
the morning’s speckled with sorry-for-your-losses
and your sister mutters at the wake
that God would’ve kept you
if you didn’t love me
and I don’t know if I disagree
and I can’t forget the sight
of you, restful, in your last bed.
I want to be wrapped up in you
and hear you whisper
‘don’t forget you owe me
a kiss in the morning’ one

in another universe
I get up
and pay my debt
you get up
and collect
in another universe
I take that other me’s place
and you are still sweet,
as sweet as the crash never happened,
hands living-warm against my cheeks
when you ask,
‘come on, baby boy,
why you cryin’?’—

I have tried to find
the space and time
when you still are.
the curtains have been drawn
in the living room since the funeral.
your mother brought brown rum
and lasagna
and tears to my eyes,
said no lover has never been in your corner
as long as I have.
I let slip that I’m still hoping
that you get up before death counts ten
and give life a wicked left hook.
you still owe me a
blasted kiss—

for a gasp of afternoon
I am when you are.
I don’t stop crying,
crying ‘I miss you, man’,
and I stop trying to hide it
and you stop asking
because I kiss you like a
glutton. time won’t even
let me have you for
six minutes, but the air
next to the dining table
still smells like my sweet hibiscus boy—

by now, it’s become
a given. I step between
two worlds, and just
one knows you. on the
other’s anniversary of burial,
you run your hands through
my hair, and I pay
dozens of arrears you don’t know about
with interest
like it will buy your body back
from the earth—

long after our time:
soon time will grow
bored and cast us in
some other dollhouse drama.
you ever wonder which?
star-crossed spies? partners-in-crime?
or are our roles so honed
that I can stay the eager clumsy hummingbird
at some stiff house party
bouncing from wallflower to wallflower
‘til I rest my lips on you?

you owe me
my blasted kiss.
do you hear me say it?


Brandon O’Brien

Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist, and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions and the 2020 Ignyte Award for Best in Speculative Poetry, and is published in Uncanny Magazine, Fireside Magazine, Strange Horizons, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is the former Poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. His debut poetry collection, Can You Sign My Tentacle?, available from Interstellar Flight Press, is the winner of the 2022 Elgin Award.

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