Dan O'Brien

A grain of sand under the skin. A pearl I wished to pluck. Inexorably accruing in the heel of my foot. At night obsessively I would pick at it with a pin burned refulgent in the stovetop’s flame. It bled, it scabbed; inexorably it grew. The doctor numbed it, framed it in paper, sliced and scooped it out. A planter’s wart, I thought he said. Like a seed. See the nervy roots? Then back to school. Where I’d peel my sock to show the bandage with pride. Though secretly I feared its return. Worry, my mother said, caused it. Which is what she said about my other fears: of germs, of abduction, of possession, all of which was a kind of code for my brother’s body dangling in a noose, for my brother’s wrists slashed in a bathtub filled with blood, for my brother’s mouth around our father’s gun. Head gone. The more you worry about it the more you make it occur, my mother said. Better to forget it, if you know what’s good for you. But I didn’t. In hidden ways I’ve treasured it, writing it over and over again. Inexorably. And it never did come back, or hasn’t yet.

Dan O’Brien is a poet, playwright, librettist, and essayist whose recognition includes a Guggenheim Fellowship and two PEN America Awards. His fourth poetry collection, Our Cancers (Acre Books), and an essay collection, A Story That Happens: On Playwriting, Childhood, & Other Traumas (Dalkey Archive Press / CB Editions in the UK), were published in 2021. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles.