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Richard J. O’Brien

Richard J. O’Brien currently lives in Pennsylvania. After a stint in the army, where he could find no decent poetry books, he attended Rutgers University and received his undergraduate degree in English. Richard went on to Fairleigh Dickinson University and received his MFA in Creative Writing in 2012. His poems have appeared in Falling Star Magazine, New Plains Review, the Inflectionist Review, Stray Branch Literary Magazine, The Penwood Review, and others. In his spare time, when he’s not writing, Richard teaches his son, often to his son’s chagrin, the alternate and secret history of the world.

The Dark Wood

Where the Poet met Virgil’s shade comes to mind as I sit outside my house, alone. Low gray clouds rest atop leafless trees, caliginous forms like skeletal sentries who guard the way against the uninitiated. Where is my guide who will appear amidst these stark, sullen trees of night and lead me through the underworld? The answer to my silent question rests in the quiet emptiness all around me. The summer will erase the tenebrous wood, replacing bare branches with leafy green; the harsh winter rains will move on, and I will sit outside at night, content to know that no ghostly guide ever appeared between the gaunt trees to dupe me into a journey beyond my world. By now, the sinners are no longer recognizable and Hell so compartmentalized that it would hardly resemble the place the Poet described in his Inferno; even the fallen angels charged with tormenting lowly sinners have lost their place—the economic viability of cheap labor means their work being farmed out to contractors, lesser miscreants lacking originality with no clear agenda beyond the torment. Such change is inevitable; as it is on Earth, so it stands above and below. The dismal trees out here tempt me, but it is better that I stay rather than take one step off my porch for fear of not recognizing Virgil even if he hit me with a shovel and dragged me half-conscious, bloodied, all the way down to the 9th level where Ptolomeca looks more like a run-down theme park or a dull shopping mall, complete with homogenized shops and muzak that plays forever, where there is never enough parking and everyone wants to be waited on first.

The Sunlight: A Million

Angels shimmered on the creek’s surface and along the bank there was a tree with a hole in its trunk, and I told you a tale about people who came from another world, little people like elves that entered our world and captured stray cats for the war effort back home. And why, you asked, did the elves need cats, and I told you that tabby cats were used as war horses, given their speed and natural camouflage, while tomcats served as pack animals to haul heavy loads which proved a troublesome affair given the inherent feline distaste for the rigors of being another’s beast of burden. Many years have passed since that day, and the creek, in the late summer afternoon, still captures light the way it always did. The tree still stands even though the hole near the trunk’s base is not visible—the last time I looked, a patch of weeds obscured the doorway between the worlds. Perhaps the war of the elves is over, and this news I would share with you, but if you no longer remember the elves who waged their war then maybe you can recall a million angels dancing over the creek’s surface, and if that’s enough to jar your memory then that would be as good a start as any.

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