Tobi Alfier – Shuttered Woman

Alfier LE P&W January 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, January 2024

What can I get you? – poems by Tobi Alfier.

Shuttered Woman

She reads wine labels like the love letters
hidden in her ballerina jewelry box
some ancient as the papery lampshade
in the study, some as new as the year.

The winter light is dim
and so is the hallway
as she rushes through her evening
in order to sit poised, relaxed,

waiting for evening company.
There’s a distortion in the room
that could be mended by a kiss
or by the ghosts of memory

as they float away past the mirror,
out the open window blowing
snow so gently on the floor
it breezes in a line straight as rulers.

She is a physics problem
to be solved, her dream speech
disarmed and translated
into love language

like we say artichokes
are our love language
and other things that make no sense
and every sense.

She is the border
of a vanished country,
a cold seam of winter light,
an unbroken anonymity

but she always comes back
beholden to no one
the years broken her gray
her evening companions shot with light.

What Can I Get You?

She had the grades
and high enough IQ to sail through
any Ivy League school

but preferred the mere mortals
in the bars she tends—
two bars, seven days

enough stories to fill
notebooks and notebooks,
turning them into myths and tragedies

no one would believe
but they were rather
impossible to make up.

The man with the cringing gait
was a track teacher after
a war injury,

he never said which war,
in fact he never said much at all
until after last call, when

all who were left were dreamers
and saints.

The woman who burned through money
buying solace for everyone, who looked
like she slept rough, she had a story.

Held up by the cranes and scaffolds
of alcohol and cigarettes,
faces baring the weight of shadows

beyond imagination, they raised a building
of delicate grace with rum and coke,
did not burn it down. And freed

from their separate tragedies, the sum
of their parts made them whole—and that
made her whole. Two bars, seven days.

No Salt Water Taffy

I am beholden to evening boardwalks,
the empty booths, the secrets,
the closed up carnival wonders
and souvenir shops selling everything
from post cards to toe rings
—secret speakeasy piercing/tattoo shops
in the back. The tattoo artist
is always my kind of guy—all partied out,
clothes that look well-traveled in,
a PhD in art and life, he could look
at you and guess what you were there for,
he’d pass you off to the piercing guy
if desired. A shot of tequila,

then stare at the ceiling
stickered with constellations—
all the anesthesia you’d ever need.
I know from experience the black
lines hurt most, but the piercings
might need two shots of tequila, I don’t know
—maybe a 5% lidocaine patch swiped
from some hospital would work well
but I digress. The piercing artist
is always particularly creepy. He speaks
like a castaway, an insomniac,
a runaway from a sideshow—
he speaks like a robot or the fortune-telling

head at the end of the pier. He’s worn down,
waiting to light out for his watering hole
in an even more disdained part of town
but he’s careful, and talented, just alienated
from the normal niceties of people
who take your money and act like they care.
I myself prefer women for my own
personal ink, and confess I’m a junkie
for the closed food stalls—
love going to sleep all tangy from sea air,
mustard under my fingernails,
a bag of salt water taffy in the fridge,
funnel cake stretching the bluebird on my stomach.

© Tobi Alfier

Tobi Alfier is published nationally and internationally. Credits include War, Literature and the Arts, The American Journal of Poetry, KGB Bar Lit Mag, Washington Square Review, Cholla Needles, James Dickey Review, Gargoyle, Permafrost, Arkansas Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others.  She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review

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