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).
THE THINGS THAT ARE WRONG WITH ME
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.
I feel a hidden thinness, growing—
hollowing out in some dark core,
like bird bones.
I lose color.
I lose balance and concentration
I gain stones where muscles
used to cluster and golden mucus.
pages off the calendar.
I gain thirty-four separate pills
I lose and gain doctors
I gain pain—
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,
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
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
and the floccular lobe
long since lost), but we whisper
as though his skull
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.
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
in the neighbors’ yard. Their boy
does not hesitate, sprints
across the lawn, pulls
driver free—cheating fate
and her flames, unreading
of smoke against sky.