Sunni Brown graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2003 with an MFA in Creative Writing and is currently an adjunct English instructor at Weber State University. Her work has been published in Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Redactions, and Southern Indiana Review. She loves reading The New Yorker cartoons in the bathtub.
After Henry James
Always a young man in clean boots and a small white
bird churning the sky into ash. He climbs ladders,
the young man,
not towards the bird but a girl
soon to die, and he watches
the coughing, the switching of eyes,
and a long boat moored
under the parapets of Venice. By day,
pressed to the glass, a window
swinging battered casts
of hat and hand and the intricate gardens
shifting their greens, he sighs. She laughs a little.
By night, tiger-faced and hungry,
The costume party reels its usual
plots: deception, the fever of loss.
We are all of us
instinctively tribal. What the labyrinth spells is
not organized chaos
or the map to forgetting
but a blueprint of the wound
we rise every day to cover.
The girl dies. The young man lifts an umbrella
to the falling sky, brushing the spent air
of the bird's flight.
After the wings, the breast opens.
I have a crush
on W. B. Yeats. In the National Gallery
in Dublin, a portrait of him
done by his brother
when both were still boyishly free
wherever I go in the room. His hair,
almost perfectly kempt. His glasses
make him look ponderous, as if
the troubles of a yellow-haired woman
and Irish Nationalism
were already perplexing.
what every boy I know is not:
noble, artistic, tormented
by self-purpose. This
in a man who loved fairies. This
is how a soul mate looks.
But it still happens
as it did yesterday in the aspirin aisle
of Albertson's on 20th St. He had
a crooked nose, muddy work boots,
and an old snow hat
pulled over messy hair. His pants sagged,
not for style
but from a muscular roughness,
and his hand, cracked
between each knuckle, clutched a wad of cash.
I stopped breathing
for a moment, tried not to stare,
I did anyway. Nice girls don't look
at boys like that
like that. He was the wretched loveliness
I can't outgrow
wanting. No glasses. No fairies. Just a man
who makes me feel
I'm a ragged field
ready to burn.
Maggots of the sweet morning sift
through the rot
of the opened bear, black-
gold, sunlit continent
of fur, ridge of bone,
Somewhere, Indiana maybe,
a boy in scuffed shoes digs
for China, the dirt in his hands soft
and limp like the mouse
caught in his grandfather's wine cellar.
He will ask his mother if China is the basement
of the earth, and she will say
China is where people fall in love
and die, just like here.
Just now, at my father's house,
late apples fall, each bruising
the one before it. He has swept and scrubbed
for days, erasing all trace
of her. Poppies blazing
in the red lust of autumn
line the vegetable garden. He stands,
a stoic: Moses alone in the new land
while the chosen
toward a crippled Egypt.