1. Call me Sebastian, arrows sticking all over The map of my battlefields. Marathon. Wounded Knee. Vicksburg. Jericho. Battle of the Overpass. Victories turned inside out But no surrender
Cemeteries of remorse The beaten champion sobbing Ghosts move in to shield his tears
2. No one writes lyric on a battlefield On a map stuck with arrows But I think I can do it if I just lurk In my tent pretending to Refeather my arrows
I'll be right there! I yell When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus To recruit me Crouching over my drafts lest they find me out and shoot me
3. Press your cheek against my medals, listen through them to my heart Doctor, can you see me if I'm naked?
Spent longer in this place than in the war No one comes but rarely and I don't know what for
Went to that desert as many did before Farewell and believing and hope not to die
Hope not to die and what was the life Did we think was awaiting after
Lay down your stethoscope back off on your skills Doctor can you see me when I'm naked?
4. I'll tell you about the mermaid Sheds swimmable tail Gets legs for dancing Sings like the sea with a choked throat Knives straight up her spine Lancing every step There is a price There is a price For every gift And all advice
The duplex is a form I invented. It's a fusion of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues. The video was taken in my den, which I'm mostly excited about because growing up I never imagined living in a space that afforded for two living rooms, one of which middle class folks like to call a "den."
-- Jericho Brown is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection is The Tradition (Copper Canyon 2019). His poems have appeared in Buzzfeed, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME magazine, Tin House, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is an associate professor and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.
Ma’s in the wind-pummeled double-wide waiting for the retired policemen to bring their retired police horses to the ranch. She’s at the window now describing the rain, the two-horse trailer, and also, how sometimes she and my stepdad talk about death for a long time. How imagining death can make it easier to live and I agree and say, It’s called die before you die. What is being delivered here is a horse who’s had a hard life. A large quarter horse named Seattle -- a horse with a city name who protected a city, who was spooked outside the baseball stadium when a shopping bag wrapped around his leg, a plastic thing versus a muscle-bound animal in a busy crowd and a flash accident killed a man. But then, I wonder, what for the horse? Never to be ridden, stuck numb in a stall, lightning bugs torturing the poor blood? I bet that horse might have wanted to die before he died. But not yet. What is being delivered here is release. Today, his officer-rider is finally retired, too, with an old badge on the dashboard and a fine plan to drive all the way to Montana, where the rider has bought a ranch for his horse, Seattle. The rider, and his horse, with his city-name, and his forgiven city-mistakes, are charting a clear new territory of absolution, and it makes Ma and me happy. How good it is to love live things, even when what they’ve done is terrible, how much we each want to be the pure exonerated creature, to be turned loose into our own wide open without a single harness of sin to stop us.
I am thirty, wading out into a deep body of water.
My favorite form of loss is to swallow. What have I to lose
this time around? Last July my legs were draped on either side of my husband’s head.
My thighs hung like a scarf about his neck, his hair burrowed into my privates.
I’d always longed to see a dolphin’s vagina. As a child, I wanted to be a marine
biologist. At Sea World, I rode on my father’s shoulders held on to his ears for dear life.
I—upswept in his current, his arms filled with his own blood. Now they are gone, both the father
and the husband in this story, their closets emptied save for tins of shoe polish and handfuls
of naked wire hangers. I am Medea. Euripides takes up my voice like a pebble for safekeeping,
beads of water run off my face like grief. Afloat, I rehearse how to mourn like a stone.
My breasts skip atop the surface, aqueducts of milk rooted beneath the skin. The river
holds me in its mouth like a song. I in turn leave it, troubled.
“Water Lilies” has never been published and by no means does it feel “completed” to me. It is a poem that I have set aside to potentially revisit or use as a graveyard to extract lines from for another future work. At this point, “Water Lilies” is just as unfinished, in-process, and chaotic as my daily attempt to stay alive.
I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence.
– Fr Daniel Berrigan, on trial in Baltimore
My neighbor, a scientist and art-collector, telephones me in a state of violent emotion. He tells me that my son and his, aged eleven and twelve, have on the last day of school burned a mathematics textbook in the backyard. He has forbidden my son to come to his house for a week, and has forbidden his own son to leave the house during that time. "The burning of a book," he says, "arouses terrible sensations in me, memories of Hitler; there are few things that upset me so much as the idea of burning a book."
Back there: the library, walled with green Britannicas Looking again in Dürer's Complete Works for MELENCOLIA, the baffled woman
the crocodiles in Herodotus the Book of the Dead the Trial of Jeanne d'Arc, so blue I think, It is her color
and they take the book away because I dream of her too often
love and fear in a house knowledge of the oppressor
I know it hurts to burn
To imagine a time of silence or few words a time of chemistry and music
the hollows above your buttocks traced by my hand or, hair is like flesh, you said
an age of long silence
from this tongue this slab of limestone or reinforced concrete fanatics and traders dumped on this coast wildgreen clayred that breathed once in signals of smoke sweep of the wind
knowledge of the oppressor this is the oppressor's language
yet I need it to talk to you
“People suffer highly in poverty and it takes dignity and intelligence to overcome this suffering. Some of the suffering are: a child did not had dinner last night: a child steal because he did not have money to buy it: to hear a mother say she do not have money to buy food for her children and to see a child without cloth it will make tears in your eyes.”
(the fracture of order the repair of speech to overcome this suffering)
We lie under the sheet after making love, speaking of loneliness relieved in a book relived in a book so on that page the clot and fissure of it appears words of a man in pain a naked word entering the clot a hand grasping through bars:
What happens between us has happened for centuries we know it from literature
still it happens
sexual jealousy outflung hand beating bed
dryness of mouth after panting
there are books that describe all this and they are useless
You walk into the woods behind a house there in that country you find a temple built eighteen hundred years ago you enter without knowing what it is you enter
so it is with us
no one knows what may happen though the books tell everything
burn the texts said Artaud
I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.
You are reading me now and thanks. I know I feel a bit better and if you will stay with me a little longer, perhaps take me home with you and introduce me to your friends, I could be delighted and change my tone. I lie in a desk drawer, hardly ever getting out to see the light and be held. It makes me feel so futile for having given birth to myself in anticipation. I miss a social life. I know I made myself for that. It was the start of me. I'm grateful that you let me talk as much as this. You probably understand, from experience; gone through something like it yourself which may be why you hold me this long. I've made you thoughtful and sad and now there are two of us. I think it's fun.
The Impressionism wing strikes me as too dainty for my mood, except for one oil painting by Gustave Caillebotte, Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue, which is described in the wall text as “visually unpleasant.” A bust of an African woman bums me out. This year, I cried at everyone’s kitchen table, I spit on the street and was late on purpose and stepped in glass and my dog died and I saw minuses over and over. I’ll figure it out. I let a man walk away and then another one. It has taken me exactly this long to realize I could have done something else. I'm being repetitive now but do you ever hate yourself?
Calf's Head and Ox Tongue Date (c. 1882) Gustave Caillebotte French, 1848-1894