Initials

By Dion O’Reilly

Heart and intitials carved into a tree truck

Once my father shot at me
from a block away. Bullets
spit at my feet, struck a mailbox,
pinged like a broken bell.

I was standing with my beast
of a boyfriend, the boy who climbed
each night to my pink room,
carrying stolen books and blues LPs.

He was carving with a pearl-handled knife— 
B+D in a full-bloom tree. I was fifteen,
in love, acacia roughed-up the wind. 
Our feet were bare.

Why did my father try to kill me? 
Was he calling me back? Did he want
his whole imagined life back, a door 
opened to him after a full day of work?

Not the slammed-shut silence, smashed figurines, 
my mother’s chronic disdain. I hated him too,
the way he wheezed her name, chased her Mercedes 
every time she went out.

As soon as he dropped the 22, the story went quiet.
He wouldn’t look at me. My mother didn’t care. 
With time, I too forgot. Billy reminded me 
ten years later after we tried 

to re-light our old beauty in the backseat of a beater.
My memories were scarred by then, the way the heart—
with time—will stiffen, yet still echo its iambs 
through its lonely halls.

Billy’s brown-gold arms, his day-break eyes, dim to me now,
and so is the gun’s report, its full-stop in the dirt.
How distant my father was, 
how close those bullets came.

About the author

Dion O’Reilly’s debut book, Ghost Dogs, was published in February 2020 by Terrapin Books. Her poems appear in Cincinnati Review, Poetry Daily, Narrative, The New Ohio Review, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Journal of American Poetry, Rattle, The Sun, and other literary journals and anthologies. She is a member of The Hive Poetry Collective, which produces podcasts and radio shows, and she leads online workshops with poets from all over the United States and Canada. Learn more at dionoreilly.wordpress.com.


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