Literary Orphans

Three Poems by Nathaniel Sverlow




my father was once young

and strong and full

of promise


he lifted weights



almost everyday


and at the end

of each workout

he’d often take

his shoes off

(no socks)

and show us his



. . . . . . . . . . the ones that had formed

. . . . . . . . . . and the one that had broken


big balloons

of clear and red

water and blood

life and living


and he’d smile

at our reaction,


as he toweled his feet off

and left

down the hall


this went on

until he turned 40,

when, on his birthday,

he locked himself

in the study


later that day

he let me in

he told me

he was too old,

that it was all over,

that nothing mattered


so why give

a shit


mother said he was

having a bad day,

but he never

lifted weights


or cycled again


he never took off his shoes

and showed us his blisters



he resigned himself

to the couch

sinking in

with a bottle of wine

or tequila

or soju

or whatever else

he felt like

that day


years later,

approaching 40 myself,

mother and I go out

for lunch

she tells me

his body is gone

his mind is going,

can’t tell if it’s CTE

(after three major falls)

or if he’s just an asshole


. . . . . . . . . . I think he might die

. . . . . . . . . . this year, she says finally


and I am picking at

my right index finger

with my right thumbnail


not knowing

the blister

that would form

and eventually





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the bus stop


I drove him out

to the bus stop

He was pale, thin,

and very tired


I helped him

get his things

out of the trunk


“You ready?”

I said


He smirked

“I don’t know.

I’m going to sleep

on the train though.”


“Good luck.”


“Let’s hope.”


we hugged

and then I watched him

join the mass of people

moving inside the bus


when it was his turn

at the door

I thought he might give

a second glance

but I was wrong


he was just too tired


as the bus pulled away

I could see

the blue sky

the clouds

the greenness

of everything

in its place





and going

brushing shoulders

on such a beautiful day


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the hairdresser



I went and got a haircut


the hairdresser was young,

nineteen or twenty at most,

and thin, very thin,

with a rainbow Mohawk

and tattooed feathers

running down

the side of her neck


“Let’s get that head

all the way down!”

she said

to start things off


I lowered my head

and she worked the clippers

along the back and sides


she held up a lock of hair

to the mirror


“That’s at least an inch long!

You haven’t been here

in a while, have you?”


“Three months.” I said


“Head down!” she said.


we were there for a while

at least a half an hour

and there was small talk,

of course,

about balding and X-chromosomes

about Paul’s perm

about parents and divorce


“One of my first memories,”

she said,

“I was two years old

sitting on the staircase

watching my mother pack

her things into boxes

before she left.”


“When I was nine,”

I replied,

“my parents were fighting,

screaming at each other.

And when it was quiet,

I went into the living room

and saw broken chairs

broken stools

broken glass

paper towels


on the floor

and swinging

from the ceiling fan.”


she ran her fingers

through my hair


“They should have

just gotten divorced.”

I said.

“They would’ve been

a lot happier.”


“Yeah.” she said,

closing her fingers

over an uneven portion

and cutting.

“I wish I didn’t waste

so much time

worrying about it.”


“Head up!” she said,

handing me a mirror,

“How’s the length?”


I moved the mirror around

to find my reflection


I took too long

and the hairdresser laughed


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Nathaniel Sverlow is a freelance writer of poetry and prose. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with three cats, one incredibly supportive wife, and his young son. His previous publishing credits include Typehouse Literary Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Squawk Back, and Bone Parade. And, he is currently finishing his first poetry compilation, The Blue Flame of My Beating Heart, set to release later this year.

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–Art by Giuseppe Milo