So speak. So I

             speak to you; measure
             by snake scale the story
             we call name

Until we can see a pattern, den born
             and squirming, through the witch grass.

To tell it is to rattle;
it is to split it  open        down the belly,      
                                              to expose
the space between each wall. Our unformed spirits

amount to breath
                            slithering out, into the snow.

I am jealous.
The animals implicate their presence
             with such obvious subtlety.

Their dim rustle,      their calls that
                                   blanket the wood.

The payphone
out behind Smalltownburgville Drug and Grocery

             howls all night        like a child
waiting to be grabbed by its scruff
and deposited in a crib.

I ask a favor of you, you, you:
             harvest the scraps of my voice—
sew them into a scarf; anything

to wrap a face in, to hold
heat, candle sure.
The countryside’s a song
growing bars one tree at a time.

Keep this quarter for the call.

The forest snickers at each passing:
wind gnaws the branches,
                                    sounds out bone
to the hungry dogs.

We are scared that way,
             that way the dice
eclipsed by your closed fist

shiver like dead leaves
before they’re tossed.

Someone sings a love song to the very river that drowned my brother three years back.

The seasons are vermin
sneaking solemn through the years.

He looks like you                   
             so say.
He is quite handsome             
so say

softly. I am scared of the river which drowns each day,
scared of the thirst that draws me to it—
                                                             and to be scared is a sign

of a certain type of respect.
I remember him the way one might lay a wall.

Memorized him,
the way one might burn a field.

It was not my brother, it was me

who drowns to return again and again.
                                                            Each night

brings the same dream and each morning
                                     over coffee at the Salina, someone new
whines to play with the new toy of it.

             To crack its shell and leave me
with the mess.

Make symbol out of jack shit. Friend, maybe dreams
speak plain, maybe they mean exactly what they mean.              

Every night a man drowns.

But no—
go on,

tell me how a body
of water can be unknown, how dying
is the one slow matter
reserved for the living.

How anyone can have the idea of a brother
                                                            to lose.

The corpse wood drying in the orchard does not mourn the corpse wood, it mourns
                        the ungathered fruit.

Of temperature and nothing
                                               of the river’s longing

for whatever touches it: a wavering;
a body to orient oneself by.

(Who would carry a candle through the night?)

             Beneath this bee stung
                                     swollen sort of moon; 
the clouds sop up the bloat of

all that rotten               yellow light.

(Leave knocking to the ghosts).

(Force is the virtue
that makes God perfect).

I do have a brother, did,
do. All the cars

in Smalltownburgville are red
                                              and idling
on the torn-up baseball field.

             at the salt ponds
                          the children night fish

and gig frogs with stolen .22s.

But my brother, my brother
was not supposed to be
my brother. There are no houses large enough

for more than one child in this town. The womb
has been spooned empty             as the hills.

Let me put it bluntly:
luck’s the technique
we use to organize
                                                    each of our petty
(and I mean petty) losses.

                                                    You mustn’t let it breathe.

Out the chimney whisper the star absent secret, smoke.
             It is expected
that I should be the one
to scatter the two chipped plates, to place

the unwashed silver
upon the table the way the river would
place detritus upon the banks.

Soon it will be time
to hold the bell
firmly; to tug at its arm and pull

out its one dim word again

and again:        bruise.           

Say it in his voice, say it
             in a voice that breaks the dirt.

For thirty-six years the Smalltownburgville
mining outfit yanked gypsum like bad teeth
                                                from the hills

                        and when they were done,
they left.

Now, the ground—thin                 
roof to the grave of each homestead.

The unfertile soil,
a reason why I have no brother. So point
and tell me
that’s where he is buried,

between dirt
and the dirt, as if he were to be reborn
each morning from the shafts

(or the collapsed
hills). Not even the dead

rest in fine fettle tonight.

Please, whisper it to me.     
Make it ring
until it sounds out god

through the trees,
the urns,
an empty womb,

any hollow place could be a cocoon—
any place will do.

The trees bow
                          at the waists and
break to the snow. A field of toothpicks

in a pillow.

Just the season molting.

He’s trampling the crowns
of the oaks beneath his boots.

He’s hunting with a pistol.
Snow cries
through the planks hunched
             over the brandy pit;

                         the snow chills it. Pass the handle,

have a pull. Fire;

                        what chars the day
also bursts the night.

A toast:

The night is an ocean. The night is
an ocean. The night is an ocean and
we’re heavy at the bottom.


He once said to me 
if you buy the bullets, we can
use my gun.

So (what could you) say (to that)?


Don’t kid yourself,

we’re all on our way to leaving

or to being left—

annul salt from hill; shell

             like hammer to nut.

In the basement, he dug a pit
             to break chestnuts,
to separate skin
from meat.

Climb through the window
that is the entrance into the potato cellar;


the politics of farming;

lord high god almighty

             judges us by what we can keep and for how long we keep it.

Virtue, vice,        the body
                                   is a vessel for action.

Most legends say man is made          of a combination
of something

from the earth          and labor.

It’s time to shut your trap,
                            (please,          please,          please,           stop talking).

Penny the tracks or cap them—

             the train route splits the town open
and doesn’t stop there.


                                   Everyone’s daughter
is named after one kind of alcohol
or another.
Everyone’s son
is getting intimate with violence.

How can anyone ask
why do you still imagine you ever had a brother?

And still, everyone does.

Copper pancakes
littering the railway ties—

when the train comes through,
it’s too loud to hear the caps pop against the treads;

             you know what’s happened by what’s left:

scorch marks; ash moons stuttering in a row.

An elegy

is an act of love, even
                        if for no one in particular.

Of a natural
                                   order, my brother

would ask

What does a romantic do in an unromantic age?

Kill themselves,         
(he) I reckon.

It’s a way of making sense out of what you can’t.

                                                        Without a pattern,

the sky is barren. Without names, the constellations

are no more
than chalk dust sitting
stubborn on the blackboard.

What if that isn’t a lesson             dangling above us, if it’s

the moon as we see it, rippling up
                                     from under the water.

Looking down on the valley, the hawks are
                                  grackles are pigeons
                                  are motes of dust circling
the drain of sunlight.

                                     All the mineral that’s mined
but can’t be sold, we call that gangue.

Everything elliptical makes a spiraling sense.

We know how it ends because it’s also
                                                how it starts;

which is why the planets tread out
their courses, why everyone’s favorite beer is
whatever is on sale that night at the Smalltownburgville
Grocery and Tackle.

My brother
could be any miscarried baby.
With the right timing, I could have been every unborn child

(which I believe
                       I might have liked).

Instead, I forsake dusk to listen

for the gas generators oscillating, the static
between stations on the radio, the insects drowning
in the creek is as close as it comes 

to the music of the spheres
or other such useless decoration.

Every fire should not be
             burning cleanly. A romantic dinner:

pasta knotted like the wet hair of a drowned woman;

             the wine, red as dwarf stars.

                                                 Romance is not well
suited for this town.

I once watched my brother burn his love letters
one person at a time. And then
again         another time,

so I suppose there are no lovers
in Smalltownburgville or even

out past the field line        where the cities begin.

                        This town is the gap between
the right to a thing
and the ability to get it.

Taste salt, lick the edges of the table
or toss it up
over your shoulder.

Your brothers are not your brothers.

                                                          The salt is snow
come early this year. Apples clutter
the orchard floor, roll down the incline and gutter
at the hillfoot—

the difference between want and need rots sweet as shade.

The breeze collects and carts the desire,
                                                          the breeze disappoints.

On the side
   of each road, there is a dog

chewing on whatever animal has been left there.

In the forest, the trees cry their leaves
until they stand there, rock naked in the wind.

             Brother for lack of compass,
brother for lack.

Standing patiently, a suit
in each black closet. A child in each
empty room. A body behind each curtained

Sorry, no, quarantine that to   my black closet,
                                                        my unfurnished room,
                                                                       my clawed bath.

My unshaped form.

You are haunting the world
with your wild misperceptions         so say.

I was born out of a union of misfortune and sincerity.

Your brother was a suicide                so say
                                                          forget him.

I am mourning;

all the universe          and farther impatiently
tread their ecliptics until even
night wears thin,

which is to say,
(so say).

                        Which is to say desperation,
in so many words.

Brother: prescribed fire,

the brother is the smoke and the smoke
is the air                                                          
and the air

is stark, it hangs too long

like tinsel,       
or criminal,         
or a pall

to drape across the town.

Everything’s about logic,
you can trust in that:
                                                to burn the forest to keep it

from burning, to excavate mammoth bone

                                                           from junkyard,

drown the name to muzzle ourselves.

I have confused myself. It’s not me,

no. No brother, no

what difference would it make now?

We misrepresent ourselves
one word at a time
                                   as we learn the limits of language.

The rivers hide the dead, they nod the currents forward.

                                                                       Look: here,
if I were sentimental, you wouldn’t understand me

but if I spoke plainly, you would think me simple.

So—no, I did
             have a brother and he was killed
at war, maybe
so I write:

My brother was killed in the war

to make you believe it,
if momentarily.

And when I say, I am afraid to come out of mourning, laugh.

Yes, my brother was killed in the recent war.
Yes, my brother was a suicide. Yes,

             the ghosts have grown bored of visiting us.

Queen Anne’s lace overtakes the gardens and ditches
of Smalltownburgville. From bloom
                                                            comes patience
and the reward for patience

                                             is waiting, is deaf stalks,

blind potatoes, is unharvested

                                    loss (keep

             repeating the word         until it takes

root, grows branches, and blooms).

I try to carve your face from out of the mud
                                                          but it turns back to mud.

So instead I carved out a hole and then closed it up.

My hands are covered in your face.

Brother was a farmer
with two black thumbs, a breeder of Siamese cats

who refused to work with females, a bulimic sin eater,
                                                            allergic to gluten;

             which is my way of saying: he was never
(anywhere) anyone (anymore).  end