BRENNAN BURNSIDE

Wake

“Wake” was written peripherally, meaning that the text was taken from fragments overheard from strangers: small phrases and single words that I wrote in my journal. From these fragments, I wrote several drafts of verse until a coherent poem appeared.

The last time I saw him he was smiling,
wandering around my uncle’s property,
watching my cousins talk as if they were
a flock of birds changing direction. Dizzy
with the broadening space around him. His wife
only two years dead. Everything was unfolding.
For the first time, he saw mountains outside and
darkness within them. The strange patterns on the floor.
The beds that remained unmade, as if in protest.
Constellations of dust frozen in time perforate each room.
All his clothes are coated in stardust.
He was mostly cement by then, dried and driven
into tree trunks. Century-old nails made in town
by an extinct blacksmith. Walnut harvested from
the mountain property, heartwood warm
like maple syrup or blood. Like history kept in
incubation. I can’t tell how much dark fire used to be
there. What kind of obscure misery compelled him
to tell his children to lie about the other, then
line them up in the kitchen and beat them until one
confessed. History becomes a dream that sweats off
like wax. The whole house still reeks of apple butter.
The pantry is loaded with small jars canned decades
ago with only the dry dark to sup on its fermentation.
The sky was clear that day. My mother sat
opposite my uncle and avoided his smile.
With decades of words buried between them,
only she knew where the gravestones were.

Brennan Burnside’s work has recently appeared in BlazeVox, A Minor and The New Absurdist. He lives in South Carolina.

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