Poetry | Bill Brown

What the Wind Says

Nothing much in early June

before heat excites thermals

that shake the forest crown.

Wind won’t apologize—

disturbing is its business.

It speaks by curling

the edges of the porch,

shearing the window

with its palms, fingering

pine needles, caressing

the surface of water

until drops leap up

into spray.

The wind loves smoke

and dust and vapor—

anything that shapes

and tosses, so free

to follow its course.

Like children’s dreams,

before they’re taught

what isn’t possible,

the wind is essential

and dangerous. What

brings the healing rains

and soars the eagles

erodes stone, fuels fires

and flattens houses.

Who, who am I

wind asks the hollow rock—

the sleet that belts

the roof answers

and the limb that scratches

the midnight window,

and the morning breeze

that shutters light through maples

and the dreams of children

who too soon forget its song.

“How I write has changed over the years; now I invite an idea, image, or memory to haunt me into existence. Often I find an emptiness that I need to fill with words.”

Bill Brown, photographed by Anthony Scarlati
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Bill Brown, who grew up in Dyersburg, Tennessee, is the author of four collections of poetry and three chapbooks and is co-author of Important Words, a writing textbook on which he collaborated with Malcolm Glass. During the past twenty years, Brown has published hundreds of poems and articles in college journals, magazines, and anthologies. He currently teaches part-time at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Suzanne, live in the hills of Robertson County with a tribe of cats.

More poems by Bill Brown:

Among Oaks

August heat radiates like ghosts

from the stones in the graveyard.

Graying tobacco barns stare

at the scorched blades of corn.

My grandmother, at forty, sits

in the shade of post oaks

snapping beans with her neighbors.

Leaf whispers in the hot wind

soften talk mummed by drought.

My mother, at forty, holds

my infant sister.  She drifts

in a wicker swing with oak shadows

brushing the porch. Late summer heat

can’t douse her pleasure that my father

has come home from the war.

A new child, unplanned, grows inside her.

Something she can’t name aches for fall.

Still curved like a girl, my wife,

at forty, stands on porch steps.

An August breeze burns the tip

of her cigarette like incense.

Her worries reach like a troubled child

toward her mother’s aged cares.

Oak limbs hide the yard from a sere sky.

Fireflies rise from parched grass like

the prayers of sisters far from home.

__________________________

On a Park Bench in Heaven

On a park bench in heaven

my grandparents sit staring

through all that holiness

which glimmers, they think,

like freezing rain on winter trees.

They were pleased to be here

at first, flattered to be taken

despite all their Sunday plowing.

The pearly gates are just fine

my grandmother says, but

she would trade the lot for a tin of snuff.

My Grandfather would sell

his soul for a pocket watch,

he’s tired of asking every saint

that flies by what time it is.

All this gold and silver remind

them of the dining room

at the Jackson Holiday Inn.

What they really miss is the smell

of honeysuckle  or the way

woodland violets circle star trillium

like a wedding quilt in the spring.

We’ve been here twenty years

my grandfather says

and to date, no funerals,

no sick friends, no floods,

no droughts, no nips of sour mash

at the general store

on Saturday afternoons.

And harp music day and night,

not one angel flat-picks

or sings a whiskey tenor.

In the pick up glove

compartment of his heart,

he wonders if hell wasn’t

a little more like Tennessee.

__________________________

Myotis Lucifugus

Second week in July and Tennessee cornfields

grow thick with  green swords that fence in the wind.

A storm brewing in the Gulf has sent thunderheads

thumbing up the Mississippi and summer drought

is over for a time.  Country church steeples spear the sky.

When I was a boy, I wanted to climb

into our church steeple and talk with God.

One Sunday I found the door unlocked

that hid the ladder.  I worked my way up slowly,

terrified at my own curiosity.  Instead of God, I found a clapperless old bell, a smearing of pigeon droppings and a dead bat, which

I hid in my inside coat pocket to sneak home.

I sat on the family pew next to my mother,

thinking how mortified she would be

to know that I was taking Holy Communion

with a dead bat in my pocket.  I swallowed the host

and remembered that it turned into the flesh of Jesus.

To make matters worse, the sermon was on angels.

A presence in my pocket pressed against my chest,

and I felt the bat’s heart beat with mine.

At home, the encyclopedia said Myotis Lucifugus—

little brown bat.  In secret, I buried it

in our animal cemetery with a  turtle, a rabbit,

and two dogs.  I spread its wings out one last time

and asked God to accept the steeple bat.

Fifty years later and I’m still talking to God,

usually when I’m driving alone looking

in the rear view mirror as if He were a child

in the back seat counting red barns.

Today I know that Lucifigus come from Latin—

shunning the light.  I think of the bat asleep

in the steeple that pointed toward heaven,

when all along paradise was flying in darkness

over the Forked Deer River, a gut full

of mosquitoes, a gift of summer rain.



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