Elegy for the Four Chambers of My Heart

Steven Espada Dawson


My friend John says the poetry of earth is never read. So recently

I make a habit of hiking. I wonder if my brother ever saw this rock.

If a rock can be sad then this rock is sad. It frowns in its strata.

I convince John to sit on my porch. We set dandelions on fire

just to warm our hands, watch them fall like spent matches.



My dentist is the closest

thing I ever had

to a father. I can’t call him

dad. I call him David.

Our relationship is built

on the fact that I have

a cavity and insurance.

On my birthday, I get a form

email from David’s office.

When I reply, thanks dad,

I get no response.



I try every day

not to make a metaphor

of every ugly-beautiful thing.

Those two blue birds

blue-birding into dusk

are just jays — not my

reincarnated family.

I blink in Morse code

when passing by strangers,

use jazz hands to let them know

I feel cosmically alone.

Sometimes, from the back

of an empty, bellowing bus,

I gossip to the driver, tell him

things I don’t tell my therapist.

I try every day to make this

poem just a little bit untrue: I grew

four inches this summer.

My immediate family is nearing

extinction. Bob Ross is my uncle.

I don’t know how to keep

living anymore. I made

up two of those four facts.

Once, I shot my friend’s bow

and arrow straight into

the sun, hoping it’d have

an answer for me. I’m still

laughing at every joke I hear

hoping the punchline

ends in impalement.



Every poem I write is a sonnet

in a trench coat. Sometimes three

sonnets sitting on each other’s shoulders,

each at war or in love with a future

where I can be happy. I’m always looking

for a mirror with a family inside it.

If a mirror breaks, which shard is the family?

There are so many ways to hold yourself

hostage. I’m still learning to love my captor.


about the author