TWO POEMS by Brian Tierney

/ / Issue 9, Poetry


The letters in the cabinet I carved for a girl who gave me the sea
     in bits glass bits frosted white near the vase under shadows that lifted
from the portrait each evening at five sometimes seven by the East-
     facing window swaddled baby oil painting one eye peeled white like a blister
down the blue-flaking hall frying onions salt fat I remember fingernails
     shed a Spring much later petals loquats that April had its way with
the mind gathering attachments the materials even then the singleness
     of a toy feeling the grip of many hands yes my pulse even then
accumulating a past forgotten bastard dialects my ancestors died
     trying to unlearn or redeem in marsh-water winters next to Newark
& The Passaic the ghosts of natives who traded for crosses Dad said
     traded into cages of the worst kind the mind back at doors of buildings
of our beginnings on Evergreen Street now & to this day flag-poles
     the color of old keys the smell somehow of tidal water sun-tan lotion
the one room two died in granny Anna’s black-banana arm wheezing
     single engine plane passing nothing they could do when they came
with white wagon mea culpa Mama said & sat knitting in the new length of light
     on the lawn the women I remember whispering honey into strollers
hauntedly I thought as I walked twenty-two alone wanting to be Thomas
     Paine accruing waxwings in the center of town the statue tomb girls
spinning colorful ropes such small half-circles worlds my head among
     objects both living & dead among my head so many capacities the two-
stories the one-floor the bedroom in back the front the yard to yard
     these rooms that will outlast you I told Louisa once in spite
just ruined geometries over which clouds pass & alterations of light  

Note: Several phrases and fragments herein are refracted from the work of George Oppen.




Say drip chambers, veins. But there is no English equivalent
for yuputka
                                   or how brothers say goodbye
                                                 to each other

while a parent’s fine hair falls out
with the strings of crickets, the autumn of the brownout

               along the Eastern seaboard. No word for

The Year of the Folgers Can Full of Shit By the Bed.

I could say Jesus is a raindrop on the rail
on E. 17th Street—say: he is

                                   a field nurse wheeling blown ends
                                                 to build a pyre

somewhere never caught on film—
the flesh smoking slowly
                                                 before it catches, a dampened
                                   sacred wood;

December will still mean nothing in that switchblade pool hall
in Holmesburg, Philadelphia.
                                                                 The way I pray
                                   has everything to do with those prime numbers

separating into pockets; how some memories cannot
hold water
                                   or touch. From the back window,

you could see orange coal-cars, rusted blues, the ones
with hardened shit took-on

                                                 in the farm valleys,
               & ones with messages scribbled

in black. Like Wishes are horses. Like Freedom. Like Fuck
the afternow.
                                   When we whispered into the bourbon
               there, it told us eternity

                                   but it was a species like any other, half-god

among half-gods. And I say god, but I mean I hope

our bodies keep the trees awake forever. Or I mean
if I could cup in my hands

                                                 what I don’t know about
               the body or the soul, I would want it to look

like Laramie, WY seen from above, its sagebrush sprouting

around mesas half-erected by Time, & tilting
West, & farther west, & west

                                   & west: into the great deserts of light.

But there is only one way to say Thanatos
it belongs to the snows

filling up the hands of statues, & all the remembered

dents of breasts in tall vanilla grass,

                                                 & how my father said I am not afraid
of Ezekiel’s valley, watching old men

walk the gravel in the park
the spring we could not revive the hydrangeas.

It’s the cig smoke made him weep. It was his mama’s face
                        I think, returned

into the liberated dark. And how could I want any end
but this? To die
                                  as stars do

                  in a hand-cut lake: obsidian disk.


NoteYuputka describes the sensation of “walking through the woods at night, or a phantom crawling on one’s skin” in Ulwan, a language spoken by indigenous Nicaraguans.