The One

830, 831, 832, 833—

on his digits he can
see the crumbs of past attempts at family.
He licks the strawberry stains
and lists them in turns:
• rejection via drowning at a river in Estonia;
• so many silver baubles as he wooed British royals;
• a dozen unique moments when
men wanted blood more badly than he did.
In a new almanac flyleaf he scribbles
I keep counting on the One

952, 953, 954, 955, nine-fif—

teeming with restless numbers,
he goes into the university racket,
slings pure uncut figures,
counts the hairs on students’ heads for boredom,
knows each test-catalysed yawn or sigh in a tally,
tries to keep his failed love number small:
962 times I thought I’d found the One.

Too many years meet each other
and concentrate into indefinite
infinity, the kind of
thing he hates not fathoming.
The bookstore owner is also an infinity:
she resembles that one free belle
when he nursed wounds in Georgia,
her giggle takes him back to
a brook in a countryside he barely
remembers but closed his eyes to hear
each drop.

She is briefly
the only thing that makes sense.
One whole thing or
a collection of points in space or
{all the fears you can have in your body | those fears < boundless joy} or
P(reciting an old poem he hadn’t heard
since Dickinson waved the page at him herself > the attacks
that come to her in the middle of the night sometimes
when the wrong song plays on the radio)—

they touch and
the only thing that counts is her.

What were the odds?
She’s read enough lifetimes to
feel just as old as he does.
In the small spaces between lines of postmodern poetry
he can count entire continua
clashing for a chance to sound.


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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