Tobi Alfier

The Old Country

Trains sit snug and tucked together, like row houses on Flatbush. Rust, green, squarish and rounded, lovely to think of them traveling city to city, clacking away, delivering families home or aiding those running away to new lives, hopeful and exciting. It’s doubtful they’re as comfortable as houses, built for sturdy secure immobility, especially in winter. Still, a sleeping car is made for sleeping, while a barrel full of branches can be stoked for heat.

Some of our great grandparents came from one to the other, memorialized at Ellis Island. Stories passed down in languages forgotten, spoken late in the night so the sleeping young ones learn English, remain mystified by a life they will never know. All history here is resigned to its scars, some travelers more fortunate than others.

Will you ever go back—to the air heavy with the scent of coal, the twisting massacre of awkward language on the tongue, row upon row of silent trains, deep and angry February wind rushing through broken windows, announcing winter in the cruelest way. Let’s remain in Brooklyn— a brilliant compromise, like the muffled chant of boots through snow that needs no explanation.

Postcard to My Son, Roaming the Halls of Academia

Of course it is a mother’s prerogative
to push and pull, but no one can keep you home.

You wandered for years,
planning your global exploration,

learning the weathers of personal comfort,
sky the color of breath at an open window,

clean wash of rain amid the grapevines,
and music spilling from room after room.

Write papers during nights so quiet, trees
planted with rosemary carpets seem to listen;

the scent brings memories so brilliant, your room
hangs symphonies with your caught breath.

Then let the cadence of steady footfalls
and the low hum of voices be your lullabies.

All the world gives you is an inch of open curtain—
imagination sets you out into the morning light.

Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a multiple Best of the Net nominee.  Her current chapbooks include “Down Anstruther Way” (Scotland poems) from FutureCycle Press, and her full-length collection “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where” is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (

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