Bill Brown

What Lasts

What lasted is what the soul ate.
The way a child knows the world by putting it
part by part into his mouth…

—Jack Gilbert


Sixty years ago Uncle Clark threw his cigarette
on the ground before entering our house. At six,
I picked the butt up, put it between my lips like 
my mother. How wonderful the taste, the smoke
drifting from my mouth, before the coughing
and having to swallow the spit in the back
of my throat. Campfires of childhood—
the night my brother taught me how to call
barred owls, the last gurgled hoot must curl
up the throat like a bed spring. Bucky’s shepard
puppy raised by his tomcat. An eighty pound
dog, stalked on its knees around a fence to catch
a rabbit. An inseparable pair, canine worshipped
her feline father. Our first little farm house
at Crocker Springs—learning to prune the orchard,
ruthless cutting to open each tree to light. A Key West
night after Ashbery’s workshop—a day of poetry, 
Mahi, wine and a DJ playing The Drifters for our
last dance. We floated in each other’s arms as the sun 
wobbled into the sea. Our walks outside of Oxford
along the Thames to the Church at Binsey where
an old woman mowed the graveyard with a push
mower. The sign telling the dogs not to soil the path:
you marveled that Brits taught their dogs to read.


Each life has its darkness—
late night calls like night birds
are mostly predatory.  Death is 
only convenient after long suffering.
It’s the price we pay, part of our birthright.
You pass grief around the table
like burnt toast you got as a child,
learn to scrape the dark off 
with a spoon and eat it with jelly.


Moments stay with us
(what the soul ate)—a chuck-will-widow’s 
song in early spring, our grandniece
feeding an apple to Sonny, the workhorse,
laughing Hispanic children throwing
breadcrumbs to geese. The heart pumps 
blood 2.5 billon times in a normal life.
The soul is a-nose-an-eye-an-ear-
a-finger’s-touch-a-tongue…how easy
to dismiss it as it comes—it, an impersonal
pronoun—the now—just after—blessed memory—
your hair against your cheek when I awake,
a cracked window breeze, (maybe a ghost 
in the attic), or just sounds an old house makes.


Bill Brown is the author of nine poetry collections and a writing textbook. His newest books are Late Winter (Iris Press 2008), The News Inside (Iris Press 2010) and Elemental (3: A Taos Press 2014). The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts awarded him The Distinguished Teacher in the Arts. He has been a Scholar in Poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, a Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a two-time recipient of Fellowships in poetry from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Brown has published hundreds of poems and articles in college journals, magazines and anthologies. The Tennessee Writers Alliance named Brown the 2011 Writer of the Year. He lives with his wife, Suzanne, and a tribe of cats in the hills north of Nashville.


return to sampler                    return to poetry                      home