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01-19-2016

Bill Brown

 

Elemental


What the river says, that is what I say

                                 --William Stafford

I.

On the Tellico River, rocks that shape
the water's flow grow smooth and undercut
by this myriad force. At night, shadowed
by sycamore and birch, wherever current
brushes stone, shivers a glow. Light from 
distant stars and our squat moon shimmers
Bald River Falls, perhaps tricks natural
selection and our mammalian optic nerve
to accept this magic as just an evening
beside a mountain stream the Cherokee
claim as holy.

II.

Memory changes the narrative: 
Your grandmother teaching you
how to tight-line fish without a cork. 
It's in the feel of the pole, the line tension--
what's in the water on the other end--
the slight lift of wrist when the jerk comes--
all with early willow green--how it can't 
be separated in the moment-the elements--
stone outcrop, light in trees, the river--
how an old woman made of flesh commands
such resolve--flesh, mostly water, mineral--
light and shadow, brushstrokes in the eyes, 
nuance of voice. My father loved Rivers 
as much as Jesus--the Buffalo, the Duck, 
the Caney Fork, the Tennessee, time there, 
earthly sacraments of something he knew eternal. 
Why so much hoodoo about heaven 
when the river and this life demand our praise.


III.

River, how rain pocks your moving surface--
little rings swirling just enough to confuse
the clouds, as tall reeds at your bank form 
green sleeves. And how polished rocks 
beneath the shallow shoals sing for you.
My wife cracked the windows and your
breeze-song entered sleep like camphor,
as if night held seashells to our ears. You
are blind to what my eyes gather from your
surface, and yet I use the second person 
as if you understood my syllabic babble. 
But you speak a language old as stone.
I sit on your bank and glimpse the everlasting, 
as a moon rises red through dark limbs, 
turns yellow, and brightens every eddy 
and current swirl--a moon you can draw
water from, its lunar drift in every pail.

 
Tonight Wind Traps Me with Its Sound

Eaves creak,
      twigs bat the windows,
a long soft howl builds inside.
      Love, stay sound in your slumber 
and let me bear alone 
      the timbre of coming rain, 
how first drops 
      against the window 
collect and run 
      like an old man's tears, 
quiet and too dear to wipe away.

      A neighbor's horse speaks
to the night, 
      and story enters
an otherwise threadless dark-- 
      memory, a coin purse of moments, 
loosens its clasp. 
      A brother appears
and Nell, his mare 
      with an infected shoulder boil.
With such tenderness 
      he rubbed salve on her running sore.

A mind loses for decades 
      events and practices 
that were once dear. 
      And now, I'm old man nobody 
on a sleepless April night, 
      thankful for a history,
how joy and sorrow join hands 
      like twins on a swing set, 
the past's constant sweeping, sweeping.
      Rain ends and begins again.
I hear a horse gallop in the pasture--
      perhaps an equine act of worship. 
If not, I'll claim it as my own.

Dark Matters Love Poem

 

      Outside locusts chirr,
a thousand tiny engines.
The air itself would plug
its ears if it had the will
to pull empty hands
from its pockets.

      A golden sun lounges
on the horizon and disappears
before anyone gathers it
into the egg basket.

      The magic hen that laid it
rushes the edge of the universe
toward somethingness.

      Tonight the air is filled
with a veil of dark matter
the atom smasher can't find.

      Even the American toads
have ceased their mating calls,
and the barred owl is holding
court at forest edge.

      It's a night when every
sentence should start with hark,
and an oracle should step forward
and say the news is grief-filled
and good people suffer and die.

      As the sky slumbers, I am
glad that you stay so close--
even if I can't see your face,
I feel your breath rising
in your chest, and if I still
my heart, I can hear you dream.

                                -from Elemental

Bill Brown is the author of six collections of poetry, three chapbooks, and a writing textbook on which he collaborated with Malcolm Glass. His latest collections are Elemental (3: A Taos Press, 2014),The News Inside (Iris Press, 2010), and Late Winter (Iris Press, 2008). During the past twenty years, he has published hundreds of poems and articles in college journals, magazines, and anthologies. In 1999, Brown wrote and co-produced the instructional Television series, Student Centered Learning, for Nashville Public Television. He holds a degree in history from Bethel College and graduate degrees in English from the Bread Loaf School of English, Middlebury College, and George Peabody College. Since 1983, Brown has directed the writing program at Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Nashville. He retired from Hume-Fogg in May, 2003 and accepted a part-time lecturer's position at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. In 1995, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts named him Distinguished Teacher in the Arts. He has been a Scholar in Poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, a Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a two-time recipient of fellowships in poetry from the Tennessee Arts Commission. In 2011, the Tennessee Writers Alliance awarded Brown Writer-of-the-Year.