BETHANY

BRENGAN

Bethany F. Brengan is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Washington state and reads far too many comic books. Her poetry has appeared in The Gordon Square Review, The 2015 Poet’s Market and CV2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing. She is also a contributor to Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing, and Batman (McFarland Publishing). 

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THE THINGS THAT ARE WRONG WITH ME

I. Inclinations

 

I want to crack my knuckles

open, find the secret

angels inscribed inside

some bone. I know

it will be the last place I look.

 

 

II. Fibro and Chronic Fatigue

 

On Sunday, my pastor presses

                        the heel of her hand

                        into the spade of my forehead.

                “The Lord will deliver you from your enemies,”

                she warns, “but not your friends.”

On Monday, I hold my mug of tea

between my eyes; my thumb, between

pages of Joseph Campbell. “You must conquer the dragon

by making allies with it.”

 

I do not die and

I do not heal.

Chronic

indecision.

 

I feel a hidden thinness, growing—

hollowing out in some dark core,

like bird bones.

 

I lose color.

I lose balance and concentration

and memory.

I gain stones where muscles

used to cluster and golden mucus.

I lose

pages off the calendar.

I gain thirty-four separate pills

and supplements.

I lose and gain doctors

like lovers.

 

I gain pain—

 

without romance

or virtue or meaning—and an exhaustion

that is not world-weariness or

ennui or lack of passion,

but just my body wishing

to lie down sick

and get up well.

 

 

III. Methylation Mutations

 

I cut my teeth on symbols,

on avatars and parables. My body

was the temple of the Holy Spirit. My body was

an eye and a hand

to hold the pen. I was not

my body. I was the tree that pushed her way

up through the neighbor’s shed,

into the sun. I came

 

here unprepared. Every

explanation is medical caricature,

an allusion I might finally grasp: poor Tin Man, poor Tik-Tok,

all the switches

that should be flipped “on”

but are hereditarily “off,” the rusted cogs,

the clogged filters. I’m meticulous,

ticking, repairable

invention. Not this animal,

not this stupid miracle. 

TO MEREDITH, A POET, NOW EIGHT MONTHS A MOTHER

"A glimpse of power: the shuffle of a mother's hand"

— Roger Reeves

Dealing out today’s manna, stacking

the deck toward tomorrow. I

say, “What you are doing is more important

than anything I will ever accomplish,” meaning not

that motherhood

is our most hallowed art (both men

and madams have managed) but that I see you

summoning the spark

of poetry, continuously.

 

That other Fa(u)lkner was not without

his tenderness, but he valued

“Ode to a Grecian Urn” above

any number of old ladies. I’ve read enough

of white boys assuring each new generation

of thieves that Beauty’s monuments

are more precious than the backs

they were built upon. I want to twist their

ears, whisper: Love something

mortal, you coward. Let someone who sacrifices

pick your saints. Sit in the yard and spin;

tell stories no one will write down. I don’t trust any poet

who wouldn’t burn down Alexandria, again,

to rescue someone’s mother.

 

What are poems but a small bit

of mending done by the fire? You know

the work I mean: sewing up

the places some other hand

left untidy (or ripped open),

reinforcing seams, darning heels,

some fancywork around the hem. Life-

sustaining, but the same job done by

a nursery rhyme or a cat in the lap

or a stranger in the street

who smiles and tips an invisible crown.

I am just the janitor

of other people’s hearts—and you, when I wasn’t

watching, went and became a grower

of fingers, a steward of green mazes,

bewitched with bees and sharp with roses.

WHAT WHITE AMERICA LEARNS INSTEAD OF NAMES

I thought we would recognize the abstract deities (Liberty,

Justice, Peace) when they came to us, incarnate

and bleeding. I had hoped history lessons were preparation,

not lullaby. But when your children are not yet cradled

by gunfire, swaddled in gutters, the paper is shaken out

to brush bagel crumbs, cinnamon into the stainless sinking.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” someone

is again expounding over coffee, teaching

their daughter to curtsy to the capitalized: Law, Order, Industry,

Individual Responsibility; their son to step over the lowercase—

him, her, them, those—on his way to the Temple. There will

always be an Idea held more holy than a body. Crack another egg,

and peek out the back window at your

thirsty personal Liberty Tree.

VISITING THE BURKE MUSEUM 
WITH MY NINETY-TWO-YEAR-OLD GRANDFATHER

The T-Rex is deaf

(drums, stirrups,

and the floccular lobe

long since lost), but we whisper

as though his skull

                might crack

if we admire too loudly. Through the lab windows,

 

we watch a volunteer carefully press

a needle down over a fossil, tattoo of air,

a sewing machine

to unstitch the fabric of death

and dirt. Another student digitally

catalogs ancient seeds. Baby trees,

never worn, now bronzed.

 

Even these imprints

are bound for grinding

under a future heel

when the earth spurts up a few miles

taller. But we, children,

fight all the way to bed.

One more tale.

One more cup.

One more kiss.

ASCLEPEION

Exhaustion erases

imagination first,

and I dream about sleeping

on the forest floor,

deliquescing into leaf dust,

the permanent carpet of Kentucky.

                This is not like the summer

my naturopath told me

to “ground” my body,

bare heels, bare head, on blades,

floating in green, analyzing

clouds for an angel

to stir the pool. My dream is cold.

But the oaks crochet, and I doze.

I am two layers of paralyzed but unafraid.

I believe the birds’ syrinxes

deliver secret hymns 

to my veins. I resent the intervention

of the neighbors’ son, the one on house arrest,

who crosses the boundary-trees to warn

                me against snakes.

In the dangerous,

undreaming world, I don’t know him,

have augured my own warning from

the local silence insulating

his name, his folks’ shame.

I am tired in places sleep

can’t reach, and so I miss

the semi-truck,

which

                overturns

in the neighbors’ yard. Their boy

does not hesitate, sprints

across the lawn, pulls

the drowsing

driver free—cheating fate

and her flames, unreading

the wound

of smoke against sky.