Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.


At Night, after the Screams


wake us


we hear him walk

to the kitchen,




his callused feet scuff

the hardwood floor, hear


him mutter curses

at the carpet,

its edge


perpetually curled, hear him





on the linoleum

of the kitchen



So much is hidden


by our mother,


in closets

behind cans and boxes.


So much


that he loves—


Mallomars, Mr. Chips,

Hostess Twinkies.


We hear him





the cans clinking,

the boxes tearing open,

and his hands,


his thick

callused hands



through wax paper

and plastic packaging.



the refrigerator suck




its light through the cracks

of our bedroom doors.


When he stands

in that cold light,

when he upends the milk carton,

when he douses

the fire


in his throat,

does he wonder, as we



what made him scream,


this time,


his mother’s name?




Blood Bank

(after Dorianne Laux)


When I was sixteen years old and did not

need sleep to feel rested, or a job for

money, I joined the veterans outside

the Camp Street Blood Bank at 7 a.m.

where they smoked cigarettes peeled off

the cobblestones and drank MD 20-20

from pint bottles. They wiped their mouths on

the greasy sleeves of fringed jackets or jungle

cammies, looking for a piece of cardboard

or some old magazine to slap on the spit

and piss and vomit laminating

the sidewalks they slept on. I did not feel

soiled by the filth on their fingernails,

the grease in their hair, or the gravel in their

throats. I was enthralled by the lies they told

about where they’d been, what they’d seen, how

many they’d killed, and the way they told those

lies, as if they believed them. As if I

believed them, too.

Inside the clinic

we reclined on hard gurneys, flies lining

the rims of Dixie cups filled with urine.

“Shame, Shame, Shame” on the radio,

unlicensed nurses in tight white uniforms

dancing the Bump between rows of our

worn-out soles. They pushed thick cold cannulas

in our arms and our bloods drained into

plastic tubing. Arterial blood, slow

and thin. Blood over the legal limit, blood

so dirty it had fleas. Blood of our fathers

who’d disowned us, blood of our mothers

whose faces we’d failed to erase. At night,

I’d be back on Bourbon Street, a pint low,

a dollar flush, Buster’s beans and rice glued

to my ribs. Blue notes from clarinets

and guitars joining the termites spinning

in the halos of street lamps, go-cups crowning

the trash cans and dribbling into the gutter

with the butts and the oysters and the sweat

off the shower-capped jheri-curled tap

dancer from Desire Project scraping spoons

across the slats of a metal scratchboard.

Hawkers barking at the swarms of tourists

gawking at strippers in storefront displays,

and the runaway girls at the topless

shoeshine spit-shining white loafers

on the feet of insurance agents from

Mutual of Omaha. The veterans,

my blood brothers, they’d lurk in the shadows

and scan the sidewalks for half-smoked butts,

and I’d help them put together the lies

they’d tell to strangers tonight, and repeat

to me in the morning, forgetting half

of those lies were mine, and I’d forget, too.




Morgan’s Bluff


At dawn the gulls laugh again.


Two gray angelfish ascend …

… kiss the surface …

… recede …

the water’s surface wrinkles.


Pink light separates the gray sky from the gray sea.

Enormous clouds form like the aftermath of great explosions.


How pensive this daybreak,

a grenade without a pin.


In a needling insect heat the dawn’s final breeze fades


A jeep’s lights flash on, it backs out of the commissary.


Pelicans lift from the pylons.

The Cuban whore retreats up the Bluff Road,

her sandals dangling from a finger.




Night Dive


Once on a moonless night

I lost my companions.

Their beams were bright

but I’d edged over


an outcropping into

darkness and touched down softly

on a rubble ledge

where the wall pulsed


with half-hidden forms, eyes

on the ends of stalks,

spiny feelers testing the current,

feather dusters



in a blink,

spaghetti worms retracting.

So sadly familiar—


things I desire withdrawing,

their forms


the instant


I extend a hand.

The reef folding into itself

like a fist. Then,

from the stacks of plate coral,


the arm of an octopus slid,

and another, two more,


for my fingertips,


my palm. The soft sack

of the octopus followed,

inching nearer,

her tentacles



the flesh of my wrist,

my arm. My heart

pounding. Turquoise pink


explosions rushing across

the octopus’s form. At my armpit,

she tucked in,

sliding her arms


around my neck

and shoulder, her skin


the blue and yellow


of my dive skin.

She stayed with me

such a short time,

her eyes,


those narrow slits,

heavy with trust,

and my breath

so calm, so easy.



my companions

banged on their tanks,

summoning me to ascend.