Tobi Alfier – 2 poems

Two Dollars a Day


When Frankie was a kid, anytime

he got lower than a “D” on his math

homework or tests, he got the strap—

if not from the principal, then

from his father. They had nightly calls,

the principal and his father. Frankie

would be on the back porch, wishing

the early evening clouds would

waver him away. His father

would be in the old brown recliner,

glass in one hand, phone in the other.

Mama would be in the kitchen pretending

to ignore everything, a sad sigh caught

in her throat for Frankie, her curly-haired

baby boy, who could argue the world

with Atlas but couldn’t make change.

Truth be told, his father couldn’t count

more than a four finger pour anyway,

but he did what he thought he was supposed

to do. Frankie left home as soon as he could.


No matter what, Frankie hid two dollars a day

for special secrets. The long summer gone, air

cooling into ice through his ancient jacket that wasn’t

a jacket, rain drizzling straight down or sideways,

it didn’t matter. Two dollars plus the cost of a cup

of coffee in his pocket—each morning

Frankie stopped at the Church of All Saints,

spent a dollar, lit a candle. For mama.

For his father. For his strap-numbed hands

and for all the people and places far from his small

life—anything that needed to be blessed.


And a dollar tip for Dinah at the café.

No matter that coffee was only 55 cents,

Dinah had a son who needed doctors.

She wouldn’t take charity but she would

take tips. Frankie had money for rent,

sometimes he just ate corn and beans,

but every day—a dollar for church, a dollar

for Dinah. Nightfall sinks through tenement

windows but not through Frankie’s heart,

his mama’s sigh blown the way of a gentle breeze.





Immense Responsibility


They hug somewhat reluctantly


two magnets trying to touch

along their polar opposites

they share a child

they do not share anything else



She does not sleep well

he does not care

that has not changed


She gets his mail

the dentist leaves messages

confirming his appointments

on her phone that has

not changed


She bathes the son

cuts his hair

takes him to the doctor

goes to parent teacher conferences

alone that has not changed


And when he travels he does

not tell her, does not tell her

he will not be taking the son

so he can make the pizza

he can make the lunches

so she

can take a quick breath

that has not changed


She detects the scent of distraction

and maybe another woman

where once she used to smell

cigars she does not feel defrauded,

only a slight nudge that he is childless,

no responsibilities while she carries

the formidable weight of turning the son

into a fine man virtually alone.


That has not changed.





Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Her full-length collection “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where” was published by Kelsay Books. “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was recently published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (


Tobi Alfier – 3 poems

The Man Buys Himself a Guitar to Play the Blues


He’s more of an acoustic guy,

more under the breath,

as if he were humming gently,

his fingers quietly pick the strings

to keep him company.


His voice is good, soft,

doesn’t need an audience

of more than one, as he sadly praises

the open road, his travels lonesome

and long, the women he left behind,

the ones he’s yet to meet.


Sorrow etched on his face,

he entertains himself with near-silence.

Wind through the junipers louder

than his downhearted words. His luck lost quickly,

his farewells a simple nod of the hat

and a start of the truck, his dad’s old pick-up,

it knows the story without even being shifted

into reverse. Such is the light from the window

left behind, such is the love, turning to frost

even as the tires turn the miles to the next

run-down motel, the next song to sing. 






Spares, Strikes, and Extra Olives


Tammy-Lynn worked forty hours a week

at Chandler’s Bowl and Bar. Shitty job,

smelly shoes, sideways looks of pity

on the faces of women who were once

cheerleaders at her high school, now moms

in matching shirts, teams with silly names,

leagues that should be named “Martini”

‘cause that’s what they did—drink themselves

stupid once a week, then call their husbands

to leave the kids for just a minute,

come pick this big kid up. All blonde

with twelfth-grade curls and the same blue

eyeshadow that nabbed their husbands

twenty years ago, the only difference

between then and now is “Playtex”

ain’t a girdle no more, cussing

don’t send your ass to detention,

and there’s better cheap perfume to steal

at multiple choices of drug-store.

Drunk or driving through Dairy Queen sober,

no one remembers just who the quarterback

was, or what exactly happened under the bleachers

the night the team won the championship…

Only poor Mr. James, still sweeping up

the detritus of birth control gone wrong,

knows the answers

to all those small-town questions. 





 Unheard Music


Neglected piano in the neighbor’s yard

in back of their Oxnard barn, the old brown

upright.keys dappled like aging teeth,

dotted with leaves so dry, they cracked

of their own accord ages ago.


No bench, no music, not even

a wobbly old bar stool

doing double duty—

forgotten—out of tune—

a landing pad for cats and crows,


never to play at weddings again.

Like the piano sitting front and center

of an empty ballroom in a Detroit hotel.

The door red-tagged, only light

shushing in through dirty diamond panes


onto the black and white floor.

A lace handkerchief dropped, lies in silence.

Grace for the spirits that play both

instruments on moon-shadowed nights,

melodies climbing, meeting among the stars.




Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a 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 ( 


Tobi Alfier – 1 poem 

Bus Pass


Every day Marisella wears dancer’s pants.

Black—like crows lined up on the wires between

houses, between work trailers, their eavesdropping

feet vibrating with voices lying, voices calling

union men for jobs, men calling girlfriends

and wives calling girlfriends who are the loves

of their husbands. Black—like nights with no moon,

mountains with no snow, water with no whitecaps…

Marisella’s everyday uniform, apron to match,

ticket book and pen tucked down one side, tips down

the other.


Dreams don’t always happen as planned. Fathers lose

jobs, brothers lose hot-rod races, medical bills pile up,

and family is family. Marisella wears ballet flats with gel inserts,

her only luxury, for eight-hour back-breakers, bums a smoke

when she can, brings home every penny. Her beloved movies

went the way of her boyfriend—no empathy, no understanding

that church will carry them through, no choice, no worries.


Icicles of light stab the corners of the café. Marisella

takes another order, mixes more iceberg, muscle memory

of obligation like her smile. She needs no pity, only

40 hours a week, a bus pass and medical insurance.

She does pliés at the bus stop because she can.

Well behaved and well-intentioned, she comes home

each night exhausted, kisses her mama, looks in on her brother

to judge on what scale of depression he sits tonight,

and she’s done. A clean pair of pants for tomorrow,

dreams that give her hope, another day, another day.

Vanishing taillights to take her home. She exhales.


Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee.  Current chapbooks are “The Coincidence of Castles” from Glass Lyre Press, and “Romance and Rust” from Blue Horse Press. “Down Anstruther Way” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (