Editor’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.
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.
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.
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
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
who steps like a geisha girl
along a railing
at the moment she flies.
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