The sun leaves the sky
like the sky leaves the lake,
light searching ripples, as if
wishing to stay—My neighbor
carries a sack of vegetables
from the garden saying, time to wash up,
as if his clock is set by the planet.
My grandfather did the same,
scrub with a cake of soap
at the kitchen sink so he smelt
the steam from cooking.
something in me needs simple words—
ways and habits scheduled by life
beyond the six o’clock news—
the way we held hands at the maple table
to bless soup beans, cornbread
and a slice of onion—more family
than religion, an earth reverence,
childhood charmed by rivers,
and hilltop ponds. Spit from the bridge
and watch a fish rise in Cub Creek.
The news—better be at the mall buying
or the economy will fail.
On the Ridge
a towhee ushers in the evening
with a little mate song. I pause,
sit on porch steps and listen to a train
woo a new moon. I climb the ladder
of places I’ve lived, sixty-four years
of tucking the sun in bed. I think
about how night settles differently
in each location, notice my wife behind me
and rest my head against her knees,
admire how moonlight drapes
its silver shawl around her shoulders.
On Finding My Father’s Pocketknife
in an Old Bag of Keys
A grandmother’s hands peeling apples,
frying eggs, a tiny kitchen, white goat
and barbwire compliment a dream
with pasture pond, willow-lined,
leaves fingering wind. Puzzle pieces
never fit except in tightening ribs.
Gourd dipper hanging above a spring,
a locust fencepost flashed with tin,
brass candlesticks covered in melt.
A boy picked wax beads and smoothed
them between fingers and thumb.
October’s chill finds a flannel shirt,
splotched heavy with wood smoke
and old man sweat. Perfect for windfalls
ready to burn. It’s what won’t burn
I pull from silence, hold in my skin.
Yellow leaves navigate
clear river current
edging an outcrop
of stones before
drifting into an eddy.
a pointless morning
where fog defines
hollows that rise
a mountain ridge.
Nothings for sale in
The soul’s flea market;
the Goodwill sky
opens an October blue
and the hand-me-down
guilt and discarded
mercies are free,
including one wilted
tee shirt and a worn
pair of Jesus sandals.
A V of geese sing
their journey over
sycamore and birch.
Their message: fall rain
has brought new
grass shoots before
the certain freeze.
I wake to my neighbor’s late chore:
12 degrees, 12 o’clock, barn light on,
a blanket for the old mare, as two mules
wait turns. He’ll break the ice skim
on the water troughs, then hay and sweet mix
all around. Love and responsibility hardly
separable for old Peter. He and Margret,
two shifts at the warehouse so
they can keep the land, the animals
and farm on the side. Doc, the blue healer,
right at his heels, smart enough to do
the work if he had hands. Equines and canines
touch noses, sense of smell, a warmer kind
of eyes. If you walk the hoof path,
in all seasons, you come to know a place
differently than others, the sky a warm
and dangerous friend, a gentle breeze,
a song, a shear wind, a hellhound. But
either way, something like praise rises
from the ground where hearts a bustin
and Rose of Sharon bloom and squash,
and tomatoes grow hardy when tended.
The soil swallows all living things soon enough.
The light goes out in the barn at one.
Outside my study window, March
tries to prepare itself for spring.
A shagbark hickory, draped in vines,
seems scant in its winter drab—a cardinal,
awaiting its turn at the feeder, a lost rose
among the tangle. A cooper’s hawk
in his copper camouflage, swoops
into the broom sage, its talons forward.
The day carries on without my help,
tends to its business. From my perch
I’m just an odd fellow in an ordered world.
There is something numinous in the ordinary,
light and shadow, even decay— not go to
heaven holy, but infinite just the same—
the leaf mold organisms in my patch
of forest outnumber humans on our planet.
At the cusp of memory the present
sits, waiting for the world to make sense.
So I’ll get another cup of coffee,
heat up leftover soup, do something
useful, change the cat litter,
join the movement. The sun burns
haze from morning clouds, bones
in the Methodist Cemetery stretch
a little to hear a train warn cars at
the crossroad, and the cooper’s hawk,
clutching a furry knot, calls shrill and
clear as it wings its prey toward home.
Bill Brown is the author of eight collections of poems, and Important Words, a writing textbook. His new collection, Elemental, was published by 3: A Taos Press, Denver in 2014. He has twice received fellowships in poetry from the Tennessee Arts Commission, awarded the Writer of the Year 2011 by the Tennessee Writers Alliance, a Scholar at Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a Fellow at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Bill Brown has graduate degrees in literature from Middlebury College and George Peabody College. He has taught creative writing, literature and learning theory at Hume-Fogg Magnet School, Radford University, and Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He lives on a ridge north of Nashville with his wife, Suzanne, and a tribe of cats.