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Poetry - When Just a Sentence Changes

AE_poetryEditor’s note: Juanita Brunk  grew up in Virginia. These poems are from her collection of poetry, “Brief Landing On The Earth’s Surface,” which was chosen by Philip Levine for a Brittiingham Prize.  She recently returned from a year in Asia with her teenage son and is back in New York City, where she has lived for many years.

ON THIS EARTH

To love my own, my body,

to know without saying, legs, you are good legs,

and feet and stomach and arms, good, and the spaces

under my arms, and the brown pigments

splashed across my back like tea leaves.

To love my body the way

I sometimes love a stranger’s:  a woman

on the subway, tired, holding her two bags,

a child slumped against her like another sack

as the train stops and starts and the child says something

so quietly no one else can hear it,

but she leans down, and whispers back,

and the child curls closer.  I would love my body

the way a mother can love her child, or the way

a child will love anyone

who gives it a home on this earth, a place

without which it would be nothing, a dry branch

at the window of a lit room.

FLOOD

The baby blooms beside me

on the cross-town bus, powdered skin

and laundered bunting,

someone else’s creampuff.

I haven’t combed my hair today or washed my face,

still raw from last night’s quarrel.

The problem:  I won’t move in,

or leave my clothes at his place.

What weary stuff.  Truth is, I’m lacking.

There are times when just a sentence

changes the whole story

and rearranges all that’s come before.

I long for that upheaval.  Call it a warm spell

early in the season:  water floods the house.

The kitchen table, liberated,

floats across a vanished lawn.

It must be similar to being born,

the old surroundings turned mysterious and new.

A miracle, or maybe just what happens.

The little stranger, for example,

perched here beside me in this funny world,

fist curled, patting her toothless gums.

Each time the bus hits a pothole

her eyes open wide, each time,

again and again, luminous, surprised.

CAN

Losing you is a tin can

clinking against a barbed wire fence

in the middle of the night.

A farmer with piss on his pants

tied it there and laid it open with his shotgun

late one Saturday, drunk and with nothing inside

to talk to but the linoleum floor.

Now someone in a neighboring house can’t sleep

and is lying awake listening

to it clatter, not constantly,

but whenever the wind knocks it around.

After awhile it will be morning,

and I can get up, and light will come in,

not the kind that makes the world look large

and possible, but the kind a camera uses

to turn an event into chemicals

and paper, reduced,

so you can file it in a drawer

or frame it:  small tin can,

small fence, small farmer.

BRIEF LANDING ON THE EARTH’S SURFACE

Even sometimes on a sidewalk

in the middle of everything

you feel it happening.

As though you were already moving on

the world recedes, the iron balconies

glitter like black sand

and the corners of tablecloths

lift and wave,

clairvoyant as handkerchiefs.

HEARTBREAK

A pigeon

walks with bound feet

along a precipice;

the next minute, gone.


There will always be a moment

that I will miss


when, on the next street, a girl

in an orange flared skirt

steps from a shop;

the wind lifts her skirt


as it grows dark,

as the rain gathers

and begins

in the city where I love


her polka-dot kerchief

from another time


though I am so near


watching from a window

around the corner

a pigeon

who steps like a geisha girl

along a railing

looking away

at the moment she flies.

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