- Pause, and: The Burning Bush, and: Herman Finley Is Dead
From bed to dresser drawer And all while rolling latex down He’d whistle, and I felt Daily at first, a chore, a long walk Without trees. If anyone, I should have known— I who hate for people to comment That I must be happy Just because they hear me hum. I want to ask If they ever heard of slavery, The work song—the best music Is made of subtraction, The singer seeks an exit from the scarred body And opens his mouth Trying to get out. Or at least this is how I came to understand Willie whistling his way into me. What was my last name? Did he remember? Had I said? We both wanted to be rid of desire, How it made even the shower A rigorous experience. It driving My coughing Corolla across Highway 90 At the darkest time of morning. It opening His dead-bolted door. Us splayed as if for punishment At every corner of the carpet. Then Pause for the condom, Elastic ache against death Heavy in his hand, And something our fingernails couldn’t reach Itching out a song. He was not content. [End Page 77] He was not bored. If I had known the location of my own runaway Breath, I too would have found a blues. Poor Willie, whistling around my last name, Wrapping his gift in safety. Poor me, thinking If the man moves inside me I must be empty, if I hide Inside the man I must be cold.
The Burning Bush
Lizard’s shade turned torch, what thorns I bore Nomadic shepherds clipped. Still, I’ve stood, a soldier listening for the word, Attack, a prophet praying any ember be spoken Through me in this desert full of fugitives. Now, I have a voice. Entered, I am lit. Remember me for this sprouting fire, For the lash of flaming tongues that lick But do not swallow my leaves, my flimsy Branches. No ash behind, I burn to bloom. I am not consumed. I am not consumed. [End Page 78]
Herman Finley Is Dead
The birds know a day Made for defeat. Not one of them sings. Instead, they make a toilet Of your newly washed car. Don’t cry over it. Listen To the birds—you, too, Should shut up. But first, Tell every alto you know To hold her muddy breath. Bid every obese soprano A forty-day fast. Get any man who ever sang In a choir, head bowed, None praying. Summon Both the interpreter And the speaker of tongues. Pinch their burning lips. Contact the necessary Limp-wristed whose every suit Is an Easter suit, bright And loud enough to flame In hell. I want them all Wearing their worst black. Call Nelson Demery And Shanetta Brown. Tell them to turn off the radio Whether the station plays Gospel or blues. Tell them Herman Finley is dead. Then, Tell them what God loves, The truth: the disease Your mother’s mouth won’t mention [End Page 79] Got bored with nibbling away At the insides of his body And, today, decided To swallow Herman Finley Whole. Tell them they must Chop and torch each piano Before helping me bolt the doors Of all the Baptist Churches From Shreveport to Monroe. I don’t want a single hum. We will not worship Save for silence. Watch The birds shit in peace. When the choir director’s arms Fall, the choir must not sing.
Jericho Brown’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Callaloo, jubilat, New England Review, and Post Road. His first book, Please, will be published by Western Michigan University’s New Issues Poetry and Prose in the fall of 2008.