William Brewer

  • OXYANA, WEST VIRGINIA

 

  • None of it was ever ours: the Alleghenies,
  •    the fog-strangled mornings of March,
  • cicadas fucking to death on the sidewalks,
  •  
  • the pink heads of rhododendrons
  •    lopped off by the wind.
  • We wrestled earth with alchemy,
  •  
  • turned creek beds into wineglasses
  •    the Roosevelts set at state dinners,
  • fueled fires as hot as the sun’s dreams.
  •  
  • And there was light: a mile deep
  •    in the underworld mines,
  • beaming from our foreheads
  •  
  • like wings through dust.
  •    Not even the days we called beautiful.
  • Autumn weekends when D.C. drove in 
  •  
  • to take pictures. Women in silk dresses
  •    picking our apples, posing,
  • holding our bushel baskets
  •  
  • with a tenderness we’ve never known.
  •    Snow days, belly-crawling
  • onto the frozen lake
  •  
  • to hear the ice recite the Iliad.
  •    Not Hog Hill where Massey Energy
  • dumped cinder, the gray waste
  •  
  • between breaths, poisoned trees
  •    black like charred bones, 
  • where we burned cars while girls
  •  
  • wrote our death dates on our palms
  •    with their tongues. Even now, 
  • rain choking the throats of smokestacks,
  •  
  • the river a vein of rust and trash.
  •    Have you ever seen so many cold faces
  • slapped in the afternoon?
  •  
  • So many voices screaming—Wake up.
  •    This is beyond desire.
  • This is looking through a hole
  •  
  • in the wall around heaven.
  •    How do you forget that—
  • a world without ruin, 
  •  
  • a world that can’t be taken?
  •    Where once there was faith, 
  • there are sirens: red lights spinning
  •  
  • door to door, a record twenty-four
  •    in one day, all the bodies 
  • at the morgue filled with light.
  •  
  • Who can stand another night
  •    stealing fistfuls of pills 
  • from our cancer-sick neighbors?
  •  
  • Of the railcars crying,
  •    the timber trucks hauling away
  • the history of a million birds? 
  •  
  • Pitiful? Maybe. But oblivion is all we have.
  •    And if we want to chop it down
  • or dig it up or send it screaming 
  •  
  • into our hearts—it’s only now
  •    that our survival is an issue.
  • Pin oaks arm-wrestle over the house
  •  
  • as barrel fires spark like stars in the valley
  •    and the day closes its jaws.
  • I can hear my brother explaining
  •  
  • how when Jonah woke inside the whale,
  •    he didn’t know where he was.
  • I’m not saying this ends with a leviathan,
  •  
  • but I’m not saying it doesn’t.
  •   Here it comes, rising through the floor,
  • the voice that tells me I’m tired
  •  
  • of the world, that pulls me down
  •    to its pale kingdom. Should
  • someone find me, they’ll scream 
  •  
  • stay with me as they fish
  •    my tongue from my throat.
  • Should I wake, they’ll ask me 
  •  
  • if I can tell them where I am.

WILLIAM BREWER  is the author of the forthcoming collection I Know Your Kind (Milkweed Editions), winner of the National Poetry Series; and the chapbook Oxyana, selected for a 2017 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. He is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.


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