Daniel T. O’Brien

Daniel T. O’Brien is a recent graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at The Ohio State University, where he also served as poetry editor of The Journal and managing editor of The Journal/OSU Press Book Prize Series. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The American Literary Review, Banango Street, BLOOM, Foundry, Prelude, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. He lives in New York.


Robert Mapplethorpe 


I’ve spent another evening contemplating the precise

placement of the parrot tulips, the lamp beside the leather

-clad couple. Obsessed with the artifact and artificial,

still uncertain about the difference. You once said beauty    

and the devil are the same thing. You said, I want to see the devil

in us all. In the wild, the male peacock exposes

his covert feathers to attract a mate; I wear nothing

but the gold chain of a goddess around my neck.

When I met my lover we both wore stone

rings on our fingers. What do you think

about that? I don’t think there’s anything

covert about me, but I’ve yet to meet myself

in person. I want everything to be perfect, and

of course it isn’t. I am so tired of perfect.

Do you remember Jim and Tom in Sausalito?

Who pissed in whose mouth? My first night in London

a Scotsman threw me into a bathtub and

pissed all over my body. I felt badly behaved, but holy;

I imagine you know something about that. We both came

from good places to leave, creatures crawling toward something

forbidden. No need to distinguish the seeking from the sought—

aren’t we all just exploiting each other? I don’t believe in God,

but maybe in gospel—like you I am in love with the silence.

Convivial playmate, satyr by my side—you were a ghost

before you ever became one. A story I told myself in bed

late at night. I water the calla lilies I keep and close

my eyes. I see something more in so much

around me. Me meaning not merely myself.



Nemean Lion in the Nightclub


We went to the club with two entrances.

It was October. He was dressed in a beige-brown fur

from Justina’s. I wore a floral crown made of lavender and greens.

On the street, there were so many people—goddesses, and animals,

and light. Before the nightclub, the party. We went as Hunter and Gatherer.

He fashioned a bow with rubber arrows; I took kindly to sprinkling herbs

and spices across a plated mirror for me and the host. We drank whiskey

and danced in the alley. Inside, my friend’s marriage was falling apart.

How much do we sacrifice for love, or acceptance?

And where’s the limit for what we can bear? Back inside I felt anxious,

unsocial. I hate fighting and small spaces so we left. But at the nightclub,

the thrash and the thrashing—the speakers, our bodies, the sex.

In the dark I love feeling bright and electric, but in love I am still

hopelessly lost. At what point does it turn into a labor?

Something to end before it tears everything down? The night ended,

as always. As always, I refused to let it go—in a rush to be somewhere

and never alone. I wrapped his fur around me and ran out the back

door into oncoming headlights. Somehow, I found my way

home. The next morning, when he left me, I didn’t ask why

are you leaving? When he left me I avoided the mirror for days.


Lernean Hydra, Lakeside 


We drove to Lake Michigan in July.

On the roadside, the weather-exposed skeleton

of a buck, swarmed with flies. We stopped

to greet the famous sprawling

sand dunes, and on the beach found a Petoskey

stone, which I placed in a small Cherrywood box

my mother had given me for my jewelry

(but that I used for pot and kept in the console).

There is no knowing what was meant

by the sighting, the sight, our acquisition.

There was no knowing that our love would grow

serpentine with doubt. There are so many things

I have tried to believe in—even, and especially,

those which have seemed hopeless from the start.

At five, I asked my mother: if God is love, then why

can’t priests get married—why does he keep all their love

for himself? Both a skeptic and romantic, it would seem,

from the start. Love, with its many dragon-like heads,

still somehow doubling inside me like a dandelion, severed

at the neck. What does it mean to see it through to the end and what

ends it? What part of love do each of us love best?

I have seen my fair share of seasons and carousels—

each of their impossible patterns and pigments.

The ritual in their inevitable return.

The requirement of an end from the start.


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