Jericho Brown

SHOVEL

I am not the man who put a bullet in its brain,
But I am commissioned to dispose of the corpse:
Lay furniture plastic next to it and roll it over
Until it is wrapped, tape with duct tape until
It is completely contained, lay next to that
Containment a tarp and roll it over until it is
Wrapped again, take cheap hardware twine
And tie it and tie it like a proper gift, a gift
A good child will give up on opening
Even come Christmas morning. I am here
To ignore the stench and throw the dead over
My left shoulder and carry it to the bed
Of a stolen truck. I did not steal the truck,
But there it is, outside the door, engine
Running. I do the driving and assume someone
Else must scrub the floors of the body’s blood,
Scrub the body’s last room of its evidence.
I do the driving and sing whatever love songs
The truck’s radio affords me all the way
To the edge of anywhere hiking families refuse
To wander, and I dig and dig and dig as
Undertakers did before the advent of machinery,
Then lift, again, the dead, and throw, again,
The dead—quite tired now, winded really,
But my hands and shoulders and arms and legs
Unstoppable. I dump the body into the hole
I myself made, and I hum, some days, one
Of those love songs, some days, a song I myself
Make in my spinning head, which is wet
With sweat that drips into the hole I myself
Made and will not call a grave. I sweat into
The earth as I repair it, replacing the dirt
I’ve piled to one side of the hole. I completely
Cover the dead before I drive back and return
The truck where I assume someone else must
Scrub it—engine off—of the body’s evidence,
And I sing, again, those songs because I know
The value of sweet music when we need to pass
The time without wondering what rots beneath our feet.


JERICHO BROWN is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the Whiting Foundation, and the NEA. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection is The Tradition (Copper Canyon, 2019)His poems have appeared in BuzzfeedThe New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME Magazine, Tin House, and several volumes of Best American Poetry. He is an associate professor and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.


Issue Six
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