Tonja Robins

Tonja Robins received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she won the Greensboro Review Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Prairie Wolf Press, The Coe Review, The Greensboro Review, The Fertile Source, Sun Dog: The Southeast Review, and Poet.Change.Iowa., as well as in other places. Currently, Tonja lives in Iowa, teaching courses in writing, literature and pop culture, and continuing her studies of Native American peoples.


Grandpa's Toenails

Hunched in a naugahyde recliner,
round as a dinosaur egg
Grandpa sharpened his toenails,
scabbed iron, filthy-dough
grown rigid.

With the same pearly pocket-knife
he used to cut the corners of his shoes,
slits to let his corns peer through,
he did his pedicure.

Want to help? teased the old man
as I squirmed at the sight
of hoofed and swollen feet
barely within his own reach.

I couldn’t though I wanted
to let him lengthen and recline
while I fetched hedge trimmers
Grandma left under the cedar shrubs.

Bald Eagle, his CB handle,
a farmer who flew a pickup
pungent with Prince Albert spit
spoiling cans from Grandma’s kitchen
until death caught Rock Elliot,
his last fishing friend.

Grandpa Luther left his radio
and recliner to mourn, to sleep
on the sofa hours, then days.
He lay like cold bones
under a pall, forgot his chaw,
cancer eating his marrow.

Now Grandpa’s toenails
graze a metal-roofed grave,
his blue Navy tattoos all withered,
and curious yet afraid
of what hint of talon might
be seen, I’ve begun stealing
looks at my father’s feet.


The Minotaur Duane

He sits at his girlfriend’s Formica table,
smells of motorcycle grease,
his black and blue motocross boots
slumped by the kitchen door,
his lap cradling a custom helmet.
His left hand grips a long-necked
Bud, and a pile of little girl bones
rots in the pen of his nightmares.

He knows this girlfriend’s daughter
carries a blade,
and once when he’d shoved her mother
she jumped on his back, whispering
she’d take that edge across his throat
with a slide of her arm
as if playing a cello.
But he’ll be slain by some father,
he guesses, or some young man
seeking fame. Red threads hang
from his T-shirt, the seams unraveling.

He thinks of his mother, a loud Lithuanian
more loving of her amber than him,
her tiny wrists poking through lace sleeves.
She kept him from company, raised him
in a maze of kitchen-bath-bedroom
because the gods left a fissure
in the black top of his mouth,
his unvoiced anger still inflaming his brain.
His horns grew early,
he owned a cue stick by 10.

He takes another swig,
bumping the toothpick
clamped between his dentures.
He ponders the thrill of scars.
Maybe someday he’ll put aside
his Kawasaki for a BMW,
substitute O’Douls for Bud.
But forever he’ll wait for death
by revenge, that armed father or brother
who will find a beast’s
unsifted center, some way to navigate
the ivory labyrinth of ribs.


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