I’m tiring of confinement – this place filling

of connections. They are spilling

on the deck and out the front door


to go smoke, they are cluttering

the booths and barstools, making it impossible to move.

Bartender knows my name


and my lungs begin to feel under water,

there are more than three of us at the table.

My friend tells a hilarious story


about a double date she and her boyfriend went on

with her sister and suddenly everyone has a story

about their sister or brother or not having one – hilarious


or cute, or they say Don’t you have a brother?

I never went on a double date with my brother

never had a heart-to-heart about our feelings


or family or favorite food, we never had

inside jokes or outside

contact. I pretend to forget him


and he embarrassed me by remembering

my name in public because he had nothing to lose

and he wanted half of my good fortune and to see me crash.


They continue their stories and it is not just brothers

and sisters. It is mothers who hum Baby Got Back

while they clean, it is fathers who shave their legs on a dare,


it is cousins who failed math twice but teach math now

and grandparents who repeat stories

about the day they met Gordie Howe.


For them, life has been a web of connections

for me, life has been a collection of sensory neurons.

They have been hugged, gathered, and imprinted.


I have fallen down the stairs and hidden.

They say, Don’t you have a brother?

and I remember the fire he almost started


the church he broke into, remember the way we fought

over food and the radio – not yelling, screaming

and sent to time out, but a punch to the nose


or boot to the mouth and there’s nobody to tell but

nobody. I still see the scar from where he burned me

with the curling iron. I’d reminded him


he was a stupid dick and he disagreed. I still see him

sitting in the mental hospital with drool slipping

from his lips.


That was the closest I’ve ever felt to him.


I say this with a long silence

to their question.


Sometimes they complain

about their families, the extended

relatives that annoy,


or the mother who insists on a nightly text.

Growing up, they felt drowned

in entanglements


and I felt suffocated by open air.










I live in the spare room in my fiancé’s parents’ house. I put my shampoo and conditioner in the bathtub next to his. Every day when I get in to take a shower, it has been buried in the back of the cabinet again.


shampoo slathers slick

bubbles smell like strawberries

and burning bridges




I wish I could have folded my body into my junior high gym locker. I wish I could have made myself some secret escape to the field of flowers. I wish the shorts had been longer than a dollar bill’s width and that the man-coach would have stood at our heads.


wait for the late bell

water only feels good when

nobody’s watching




We sleep in an apartment that is burned on the inside, the living room like toast, every smell choking me so I spend every day outside and only come inside at night to share a charred bed, our own blanket beneath us, torn in the most familiar ways, silky borders ripped like a hiding place.


mother turned the knob

let the remaining water

baptize me in ash






Why My Brother Doesn’t Work


Work doesn’t work when his brain won’t sit

straight and still and even like a lake not an ocean


of depth and pull, where he can get lost

in his plans for the pit of dirt in the backyard


or distracted by what his daughter said

because she is a part of himself he loves


without question or apology, the rest is hating

medication, the rest is side effects and sleeping.


His wife is perfect for him –

she delivered a milkshake


to his face one day in a diner, one mad day

and he threatened to die if she left him


and he cut his wrists.

and she stayed.



Heather Dorn’s work can be found in Paterson Literary Review, Kentucky Review, Helen, Metonym, and elsewhere. She is the Director of The Binghamton Poetry Project, a non-profit bringing free poetry workshops and readings to the community