Steve Bellin-Oka


That April when I was eight I talked for hours to the red latex of a helium balloon, pretending it answered. One hand cupped around the spherical face, the other a fist anchoring the ribbon, the sky blue spinal cord of its invisible body. Running my hand along its cheek, it squeaked like the worn-out hinges of a door closed slowly, not the way the door to my parents’ bedroom often closed—their voices raised, music swelling, the slam a cymbal crashing before the muffled undercurrent of strings resumed.  Once I rubbed too hard and the balloon popped like blood vessels when a man’s fist strikes a woman in the face, ethmoid bone creaking. Then it was quiet and the rain began, blurring the windows of the family room like eyewash.


Where I was with you—an abandoned
cathedral, wood rot and pew, columbine

flowers purple as bruises. Faces etched
in soda-lime glass. Nickel to blacken
their hair, their eyes; selenium for the lips,

full and pinkish. If you can’t love everything,
you said, try to love what, in the end,
matters most—not the image complete

but the idea of it, the form, the figures
kneeling on a wash of chromium meant

to suggest grass. The sun behind them
like a yellow coin once of value but no longer.

Steve Bellin-Oka is a native of Baltimore and has lived in San Francisco, Mississippi, and Canada. He earned his M.F.A. from the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. He is the author of a chapbook, Dead Letter Office at North Atlantic Station (Seven Kitchens Press, 2017). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Nimrod International Journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Valparaiso Poetry Review, among others. He has been a finalist for the Tomaz Salamun Prize, the Autumn House Press First Book Award, and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, among other honors. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. He lives in Portales, New Mexico and teaches at Eastern New Mexico University.