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Prairie Schooner 79.4 (2005) 161-164

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Nick's Night, and: Gill Bronsen's Dream

Nick's Night

"You'll not believe he won't be back,"
they heard Nick Nolan jeer;
"that his time won't be stumbling, limp and pace,
but disappear."

He roared to the boys on the evening
of the day his brother died;
he roared to the boys from his whiskey,
and no one cried.

His brother had been the younger
at least by twenty years.
Nick said it was better, when dying,
to see things clear

and not be a clinging bastard,
and not be a son of a bitch
who cursed the degree of a wounding
he couldn't patch.

The day'd been a reflex of moments
each moment a curse and a blow;
Nick's brother was dead in a moment
and not before.

And the moment could not be sundered –
"By the powers" cried Nick, "to his health."
But at noon of that day by his power
his brother fell. [End Page 161]

Then Nick with a leap gained the bar top
to favor the boys with a song;
but the taste of his tongue was bitter
and the boys were gone.

Gill Bronsen's Dream

Beneath the quilt his grandmother had made
in 1950 for his uncle Grace
Gill Bronsen wondered how the day would break
if it turned out his dream was true, and that
his father hadn't died alone that night
(except for him who wasn't any help,
and who just short of wishing it would have
his father dead out on the Slim Buttes road
than rolling drunk, indecent, swamped with gall
and jagged slittings of sheer rage against
no one who was particular, yet all
and everyone who cracked his midget code).

But stronger than his dream was where
his left arm should have been, except that night
he'd seen it swinging ragged, grim, and bare
(and knew it had to go), as mottled as
a hectic, starving dog ripped crossways by

a pack of other dogs would mottled be,
or like a mealy length of stinking scarf
that over years had mildewed under leaves
too damp to blow astray, would mottled be [End Page 162]
no matter he should rip it up and hang
it from the nearest tree. That night he'd watched
his arm and willed it often to obey
in earnest every word he said until
he turned and watched his father's floundering
grow less and less profound where underneath
a foot of ditch run-off three quarters of him lay.

His grandmother exclaimed his uncle Grace
would not have died like that. "That ditch is not
the way your uncle Grace would die, with you
attending to his floundering and all,
the run-off slobbering his jaw, your arm
in ribbons and your tee-shirt tracked with tread;
not uncle Grace." But that was several years
before she spun herself into a calm
so permanent and still she passed for dead.

"If only I had known my uncle Grace,"
Gill Bronsen thought from deep within his quilt,
"I wouldn't have short leavings and the scraps
of sayings, oaths, and wonderings-out-loud."
He'd have his uncle, text and tack, to ward
and warn and interfere and undertake
no matter if his nightmares all came true,
no matter if Jack Bronsen shucked his shroud,
or if indeed he'd never caved his chest
against a flagstone counter near the ditch
wherein he floundered on Slim Buttes road,
his eyes on fire and his vision quenched,
but lived instead beyond his mangling
to instigate, to flay, and follow this
with more until whatever deed it was
he'd do would stink enough to kill a toad. [End Page 163]

Gill Bronsen loved his granny, uncle Grace,
but loved his father less with every breath
he'd taken since his birth. And now, with one
arm gone and twenty years gone by he still
woke cursing possibilities that wouldn't die.
His uncle couldn...


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