Bill Brown


A scripture of starlings 
floods the sky like creation,
the bang of them spreads
west against a waning sun.

The news—chemical weapons,
government shutdown, 
hostages and death in Kenya.

But on our country ridge 
night visits like a prayer, 
vespers of towhee and wood thrush.

So what do we make of madness
and grief when maple leaves whisper 
peace and the only disturbance—
children called home to supper?

There’s no answer but thanksgiving
and shame, how others must live
and die.

Pipe vine drapes the black gum
out my window, barely a shadow
now that night has opened its cool
door at the end of September, 
a welcomed guest. 

All afternoon I gathered windfalls— 
maple, elm, hickory. Tomorrow 
will be a burning day before a front 
moves in with rain and hummingbirds 
drain the feeders to add a layer 
of fat before their journey.

Soon I’ll wake to find 
frost-blighted rose buds 
and night longer than day 
and our little planet will sail
nebulous and true.


In Praise of Drought

In morning stillness brown corn crinkles
the color of work spots on my father’s hands.
Morning wrens circle the porch for seed, drink 
from metal pot I leave in the yard like mother did.
Drought-time, a place in her life she couldn’t leave 
in farm country, a place that scalds the soul, brings 
memories of grandparents and cousins in the fields 
casting fists of dust, an omen sweet Jesus won’t fix—
six months of labor flushed down the dung-hole. 
Mother woke in the night, remembering porch whispers, 
a drought child then, hearing language of failed crops,
whir of cicadas in late July, not words so much 
as voice tones, and silence between talk. 
Why ache helps children know family better, 
how chosen words, pauses, looks away, reveal selves 
that don’t populate breakfast or Sunday diners. 
Praise be to moments true as dust and scorched earth, 
heartbreak, powdered milk, Christmas singing,
and a stingy Santa Clause. 

Father and Mother, now dust, their spirits 
heavenward in their faith. Rain in late summer 
brings hope back, brings men talking trash 
beside pickups at the grocery store.
Their hearts tied to soil surrounding barns, 
skies ever hopeful, ever endless. 
What souls learn from hard-times—
smiles born in love, whispers in loss.
Parents’ dreams of drought tight against me,
taught silence, mystery, who we really are, 
who we must be.


October Questions 

What will you bring in October,

   threat of frost dusting asters, purple 

      fading like stars behind a full moon,

         swamp grass browning, wind tossed

like a girl’s long hair on a swing,

   sumac red-fringed with winter food…

      When night lengthens, will you create

         an extra dream, extra sleeplessness

to plan for a day that might not come…

   Will thoughts of November sharpen

      our toenails, grow hair in our ears,

         send hummingbirds on the Journey

of countless heartbeats…

   As you teach a fetus to lip a nipple, 

      a demented soul death’s shutter, 

         will a black hole swallow a solar 

system before a new star is formed…

   I ask these questions because

      forest loam works through winter, 

         early spring flowers birth first shoots, 

beetle grubs form nutrients for wood-

   peckers and skunks…this thing, this it,

       this verb to be, wishes to continue,

         what will you bring…


For Symborska 

Perhaps morning’s beauty 
is thought bland by persons
at the mall, or city traffic doesn’t
really conduct Bartok symphonies,
and a homeless woman with child
can’t greet morning as if God 
birthed it just for her.

Beside the Greenway Lake
a timber rattlesnake’s warning
is as loud as a fart on a church pew.
Spice bush and pipe vine flourish
for the lifecycle of swallowtails. 
An osprey flies low and swift
up the creek bed, catches a carp
and cries shrill its blessing.
Coreopsis and touch-me-nots
line the banks, an early fall prayer.

Remember in your poem, “REPORT 
FROM THE HOSPITAL,” friends used
match sticks to draw lots. Who would
visit the dying. You lost and when 
you greeted him, he remained silent 
and wouldn’t let you take his hand. 
How you wished to escape the smell 
that made you sick. How do 
the dying know how to die?

Seated on a bench at forest edge,
I put down your book and watch
cars stop to help an ancient tortoise 
cross the road and wonder about 
the life we haven’t lived as we lived it.



Bill Brown is the author of six collections of poems, three chapbooks and a textbook. His new collection, Elemental (3: A Taos Press) was released in 2014. The recipient of many fellowships, Brown was awarded the 2011 Writer of the Year by the Tennessee Writers Alliance. His work appears in Asheville Poetry Review, River Styx, Potomac Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Rattle, and Connecticut Review, among others. He is a frequent contributor to Still: The Journal.


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