Retreat

It ends or begins in trenches,
in deep mud caking socks and skin,
clogging the nose.
December snags pointing
to a grey sky
like old fingers.
He dreams of hair falling softly
on a shoulder, a light from an open
door. Where am I, he says to no one,
to the mud, to the wind,
his hands trembling.

He sits in front of the fire,
sinking into the cushion,
shadows crackling on the wall,
an old hotel once visited
by Taft, she tells him.
He sips cognac.
The day went well,
coffee and biscuits
with marmalade,
a trip to the mall,
a walnut frame for a picture
taken on the pier.

 You are not here, a voice whispers
to him as he stands
outside a shop window.
He enters and rummages
through woolen sweaters for sale.
Do you remember when winters
were cold, he says to the clerk
who smiles as if he were listening.

In spring a young captain stands guard
and watches his men bathe naked
in the stream.  Vulnerable and young,
they look to him like angels.
There is no death here,
the mud of it is washed clean,
their skin glowing in the sun.
Here the trees hold their leaves,
here young men are merely boys

Brady Peterson

from Between Stations

Equilibrium

We can’t save the world from the coming storm,
or won’t—the same as can’t—not even ourselves—
a hardening of arteries—
watching the super bowl and thinking it real.
Cheese served with crackers and a red

from the hill country—telling ourselves we’re buying
local.  A summer tomato grown in the back yard,
grown under netting to keep birds away,
picked ripe along with a few basil leaves—
A mother tries to nurse her baby, 

but her milk has dried.  The baby cries without
sound or tears—and God—
is busy building or destroying stars,
a galaxy or two—The woman squats on the ground
holding her child—

                        Brady
                        from Dust

Passing

When they are all dead,
there will be no one
left to stand witness,
not that testimonies
are ever believed if inconvenient.
And even when acknowledged,
the grey realities
of boxcars crammed
with shopkeepers and poets,
children and lunatics
are easily dismissed
when an American president
lays a wreath at a cemetery
honoring the goons
of the twentieth century.
And when the last
of them disappear from
the earth, the ones who saw
the skeletons, breathing and still,
the ones who were there
and know, when they are gone,
how long will it be before
we are told to reconsider.

 

            Brady Peterson

From Dust

Dust

April comes and goes—then May breeding
thunderstorms and twisters out of the sky—
storm chasers riding asphalt ribbons,
riding adrenaline—you call.

First responders digging through rubble, listening
for signs.  You find yourself working triage,
separating the dying from those who might
be saved.  You hold a woman’s hand
and pray with her, time for a single prayer—

unaware the dust you are breathing—

Birds are singing this morning.  So much depends—
He hopes for rain, a gully washer to the west
would be the preference, if he were only God—
though grateful to be spared that awful job. 

He listens to the birds.  He listen to the birds.  He listens—

 

from Dust

Sand Creek

Purity, like innocence,
is an obscenity we fail
to fully comprehend.
Instead we descend
like angels in the fog
of morning, like angels
wearing heavy coats,
before the rooster crows,
bearing down on those
still sleeping, unaware
that the moment has slipped
from their grasp.


from Dust

A Bookish Knight

Time to choose, he mumbles—as if anointed
and charged.  Drinks a pale ale from a can—
nothing noble or heroic, he fears—yet knows
his history.  What will you do when they start
loading people into boxcars, he once asked

a class of young minds. That can never happen
here—the arrogance of the blind, the poet says loud
enough for the important people to hear him. 
A lips only smirk from the provost who admittedly
never understood metaphor.

Look around, Neruda says to the soldiers, merchants
of death, searching his house. Look around—nothing
but poetry.  Nothing but verse.  The world seems still
to him now, as if waiting for the next word
to be uttered. 

The now of it, the smell of biscuits rising
on a cold morning in December, people busily
heading for work, the laughter of children playing
on the slide and swings before school, the ringing
of a distant bell.

There are men, Eliot’s stuffed men, hollow men,
who would reduce the playground to rubble.

   from García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce 

Summer's Day

Two women in a boat on a summer’s day—patches of light,
blue and white, an umbrella across the knees, the waning
century, before the death machines—sitting upright
against the backdrop of water and ducks.
Eight years before Monet—she is a painter determined.
Her mother diminishes her work as ordinary,
hoping she will heed the calling of her sex.

The woman in profile, dressed in blue, hand on the rail—
What is it to wish for something more, the fragile nature
of the world where merely to paint well can threaten
the authority of God.  To know one’s place in the order
of things, the vicar says—the preacher dressed in a dark suit
holding a bible leather bound.  The mother worries her child—
but the artist wants something not allotted her.

A hundred years—more.  The worth of a soul measured
at auction where the clients drink dark coffee in demi-cups
and talk about cream and Drambuie—or luminous
gleams, free from the necessity of precision and detail.
She paints in a world before the machine gun rendered
the romantic poet and the epic warrior equally irrelevant,
before the automobile, before penicillin, before fiber optics.

Before digital filters.

 

                                    from García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce

Chords

I am only now learning to talk to you
as we sit on the porch, listening
to the tones of a wind chime,
and I wonder if memory can hold
to a thing, like chimes weathered
blue, dangling in the air,
playing without intonations of meaning.

We sit in plastic chairs and sip coffee
made from beans grown in Nicaragua.
We talk about the noises in the house
at night when one is alone.
I miss the children, you tell me.
I smile; you touch my arm.
A leaf falls. 

We could go to Paris in April,
I say, or New York. Or dance
the tango in a parking lot
in Austin.  We did that once.
People stopped their cars
and watched.  We danced,
and people smiled. 

Somewhere in the dust, the memory
of a woman slips into a room.
where she is once again beautiful.
The house full of laughter, then empty,
then full of laughter again.
On a table dried roses in a vase
cling to the stems.

 

            Brady
            from Between Stations

 

Drips

 

Eliot’s April, lost in the murky Themes—
last month a man driving a van, carrying a knife…
someone plunges from the bridge into the cold
brown water.  Do you love me, the poet asks.
He pours a cup of coffee, is talking to a tree
outside his window, a moth flittering against
the glass.

Thunder rubbles to the west—a tornado watch.
A patch of bluebonnets so it must be Texas,
verbena purples.  I was in London during the war,
but drown in the first wave, weighed down
with boots and lead, gasping.  The dead everywhere,
he explains with gestures while drinking martinis
in the Algonquin bar.

How far we have traveled only to arrive here.
I call you last night in a dream, and you answer,
expecting my call.  My thinking you were angry
with me, but you simple say hello as if were about time.
Then I wake. From my bathroom window I hear
water dripping from the roof. 

 

                        from García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce

TANGO REVISITED

 

Sometimes I need a friend to get drunk with,
and lime freshly squeezed—not often,
just now and then, when memory
edges its way into the moment too deep.

If we were to measure—though God knows
why we bother, but if we were, it would be
when longing begins to loosen its grip enough
so you simply sit back and watch her walk
across a parking lot, her hair blown back—

when desire gives way to something else.
We taste it in the ice of our drinks.  I try
to explain what it was like to stand naked
in line with a eighty other young men
waiting to rinse under a single shower head

then going back to the end of the line
to soap up when there were other showers
available, but restricted.  How does one explain
how and why we complied.

from García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce

He Checks His Luggage

How the ordinary clings, even in the midst of disaster-
the hospital parking attendant takes your money.  My child
just died, you explain as if it meant the natural order
of collecting parking fees should change, as if the sky
should be green—you drive the speed limit, because
you always have.  

The house is the way you left it, the toothbrush
still in its holder, the coffee pot, socks on the floor.
Something more should happen, he mutters to himself—
music perhaps, a tango playing the backdrop
if this were a film, but the rooms hum a ordinary
silence.  This is no film.

The last time I saw you, he writes in his notebook,
the sun was shinning.  You smile at me, always enough.
We talk as if we would talk again in a few days
about your family being home for Thanksgiving,
about mine—how nice to run into each other
in a grocery store parking lot.

Someone passes us pushing a cart.  I should know
this person, he thinks.  We part.  It’s been a year
or two.  I look for you, but the synchrony is missing.
I open a bag of Cheetos, something to munch on
as I drive back to my house—the toothbrush
has been replaced with an electric one,

something my oral surgeon gave me after implanting
a screw into my jaw.  Titanium, he tells me.
That should last the duration. Suddenly it stops—
the ordinary.  That’s how you know, he says
to the women checking his bag at the counter.

                   

                        from García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce

When Everything Was Right

The beautiful mother who loves him,
he’s well fed and confident, the world a ripe
watermelon to be cut open and eaten.
A decent start, if only he’d heeded—

He watches as she applies her lipstick, then blots
it. A single string of pearls. A black dress.
You’re so pretty, he says, not yet knowing
another word for beauty.

An old man in a small town shop recalls
her name as if fifty years were a day,
a glint in his eyes. An old yearning tugs
at him. Oh, yes, he says, I remember her.

The boy comes home from the movies
with a dime stuck up his nose—never mind
how. His mother with a flashlight and tweezers
carefully plucks it out. 
 

first published in Red River Review

Rattle

He spends part of an afternoon and the following
morning with my daughter’s car and tells me nothing
is urgent. It’s an old car, but it should run okay
for now. Check the oil every week or so. 

He charges me nothing—my being a regular
customer. I dig two twenties from my wallet
and tell him I am not all that faithful.
Oh, he says smiling, eyebrows raised.

His hands and face are smudged black with work.
A line of older cars parked outside the shop
await attention. In the 1950s, my father bought
a new car every three years or so.

Mine is thirteen, and I hope to squeeze another
year or two—My mechanic went to high school
with my youngest daughter. He is a modern day
blacksmith working in the shade of an elm.

I find myself thinking about when we moved
from horses to cars. It happened overnight.
 

first published in Red River Review

 

More From The Owl


It took years to unlearn lessons
taught by a father who beat his dogs and children
with a strap—the weight of a man a hundred
pounds heavier leveraged, head locked against
a wall—breathing shallow.

Years to unlearn, still quit a job once because he almost forgot—
walked away, but almost—kicks a heavy bag
a hundred times a day in a Houston gym, breaks his nose
sparring, blood splattered on a white gi, but keeps fighting.
Are you okay. Yes. No, you’re not. Yes.

A ritual bow. Kicks a heavy bag a hundred times a day
until what needs unlearned is chiseled in stone—

first published in Red River Review


 

Gathering

Ezra’s fascination with Mussolini dispels
the notion that a poet—I can’t explain, a friend
says while we tend the smoker, feed splits
of oak to the fire.  I have oatmeal on the stove,
but coffee is enough for now.

What were the choices—all bad, I think.
One sinks like a descending balloon
leaking helium.  We cook the beans
in a pressure cooker.  Slice the cabbage
for the slaw.

I saw the sunrise this morning having
salted and peppered the brisket when it was still
dark.  We eat and read our poems on the patio
and imagine a world with bluebonnets
and bees—Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler dead
and dusty. 

 

                                    Brady

From an Upstairs Windo

 

Artimis

When slaughter ends—a pause between
hostilities is all we really hope for—but if for a season,
a decade, a hundred years—We brew beer in the basement,
barrels and barrels, a rose blossoms.  A woman sitting
in a café elevates her chin ever so slightly as she turns
her head.  You watch from a safe distance.

She is waiting for someone else.  The rub. 

A boy joins the union Army because he believes
the girl will find him handsome in uniform. 
Months later he is walking through an old
battlefield of shallow graves, arms protruding
from the ground.  The girl has died—some fever
passing through town.

The war continues.  The rub.

Bury the dead, the hallowed dead.  Speeches
and hats and ties.  Young men sporting beards.
They sing at night across the battlefield—
to their cousins, to die in the morning sun.
She turns her head—to see her in profile
is enough.

Brady

First published in Mojave River Press & Review

 

Interim

Five thousand years of history bent,
the word writ—to keep her spent
and ragged—toothless in metaphor,
if you want the truth of it.

A pin prick or pen—
ink smeared on her cheek,
the spin of gold, the name withheld, untold—
We will crush the earth,
if we must.

She fusses with her hair—deliberately
causing the train to be late.

He waits at the station with a letter
in his coat pocket—folded and unfolded
a dozen times.  There is no God,
she tells him, only the hope
of sex during the game.

Brady

From an Upstairs Window

Taking Infield

The sound of rain on a metal roof
like childhood in a good dream
where he still—  with chocolate and coffee—
the splatters of rain—  I imagine you alive,
emerging from your house

as we wait for the bus to take us to school—
your red hair—   It’s raining harder now
a distant flash and then a grumbling
from the old gods—  We once kneeled
to them, sang to them, burned offerings—

The last time I saw you, I was playing baseball,
he says.  If you saw me, you hid it well—
sitting in the back seat of a car parked on the road
beside the park.  We are taking infield—
A child wakes in an adjoining room. Whimpers—

then faint voices behind a door—  You were ten,
and Jack who taught us more than allowed
was already packing to move, as would we in a week—
to Oklahoma.  You emerge from your house
in January—  the mountains in the distance.

Brady

from Dust

 

Parting

John and Leopold share Henrys in a way,
both naughty, though one is quite willing
to jump your bones if only your husband
weren’t present in the room, while the other
is content with a letter, knowing he will
never see you, never touch—

There are laws against both—  of decency,
written on parchment with a feathered pen.
How to begin— you and I as we make our way
down corridors crowded with paintings,
Degas and his dancers.  Manet— we are both
in love with Morisot.

Beauty flickers— the battery runs down,
and you look for an outlet somewhere.
I try to explain that one summer we laid
Mexican brick in straight lines, trowelling
the mortar liberally and tapping into place
each piece, the sun unmercifully hot.

You dip your finger in cold water
and touch it to my lips.  We drink beer
at a café on 24th street between the wars,
before the weddings, before the children
were born, before decorating the Christmas
tree—  the beer numbing our teeth.

You try to explain the afternoon you met
me in the park to tell me—  we are both
in love with Morisot, but it isn’t enough.

Brady

from Dust

Hard

The myth of glass melting, slowly sliding
down the pane, is not true—wait a thousand years,
if you must, but glass will hold its form.
We know this, yet the myth persists.
Something about glass being liquid appeals
to our notion that everything is mutable.

A change of heart perhaps—the forming and melting
of glaciers.  A chunk breaks off the size of Manhattan.
But is it ice or glass—this thing we call heart.
Not the pump, but whatever that loves—
or hates.  Glass cracks, shatters, is splattered
with mud and bugs, but it does not melt.

Brady

First published in Enigmatist