[34] Four Poems, Brandy McKenzie

A few bad apples is no reason not to visit the orchard.

Sweet apples piled ankle high on the ground
& rotting: we’d eat and we’d eat, but we could never
consume enough. There is only so much fruit
a body can bear. So we’d try and put them away

for later: spiced sauce, dried slices. And still
this surplus, swarming with wasps drunk
on the heavy scent of fermented air. Now
that your body is tired and your mind so worn,
let me do the remembering for you: you at 75,

80, still shoveling the collapsed apples into a cart
to remove them from the yard, to make a place
for children. Your daughters tsking the effort,
the sweat on your back. They wanted to preserve

their days with you, the ecology of efficiency
when people go to seed. They wanted to hold
tight to the strength of you, the firmness,
the promise. Rest yourself now, Papaw, your children
around you. Let me tell you of strength

and of stubbornness. Let me tell you of the times
you fought wars and the times you loved
women, and the times you carried it all away,
firmness and bruises piled as high as this fruit,

to save us. Let me tell you stories as your hearing fails,
and you sense a dull comfort, a hum rising in the sun
those thousand stinging hungers of a life.

(Title is a quote of Lauren Weisberger)


A correction of emphasis

The world hangs thick today, & everything is strung
green and viny as a jungle strangler. A jungle stranger.
It’s not the humidity this time, but the verdant heat
of bodies, of passions, of the fecund river
turbid with lost remainders. Gray water. What we discard.
Thick in their world, too, the fish: piranha-like
and hungry, teethed with tiny hooks and waiting
on our move. But we don’t. Move, that is.
We lie in hammocks and sway in the breeze
we wish were there. It’s all some distant fiction,
a poem read once, maybe. One that told us
everything loves us, or someone does. Or that we all
are slowing dying, the decomposition shifting
into greenhouse gasses to suffocate the rest.
It is harder to breathe today. The plant canopy
undulating above us heavy as wool. The spun kind.
Touched by our hands and turned. Nothing to release
this dampness, no grateful bromeliad sipping.
To sip from. Even in our local woods, the plants
grow carnivorous, as though some hungers
will not be buried. Listen to the insect hum
filling the branches, buzzing within your limbs.
Feel the air shimmy upward, carried on your breath.
One more day down, and the ants are coming
to cross your bed. Your breast. Your bent lip
parsing the past of those words. The parting leaves.


The far, far plains

Don’t speak to me of new beginnings.
Things come to an end. We know this.
And the truth is there is no promise
of starting over, of rebuilding from scratch.
There is no scratch, only this:
A war-torn field of debris filling the horizons.
Bodies. Wounds. Pieces. Even when the sun rises,
we must pick our way amongst the detritus
in order to proceed. Shrapnel blooms
from the ground like ice flowers on the northern sea.
In winters, the days are brief and our blindness long.
We are always fighting the wind. The thin sun
hangs on our shoulders like gauze.
There is no regret left for the battle of the day before,
only weariness. A threadbare coat. Drying blood
worn like a tattoo, a brand to show the others.


Through the windows of the VFW

The stark days of the year’s end march on
like soldiers: each one with a history,
a family to write home to, each one
with a dread of tomorrow folded against his chest
like words from a lover or child.
Each day rises and sleeps: old bones
grateful for motion and still uncooperative,
mumbling something about how it used to be done.

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