Housesitting

William Brewer

Ten pound art book about Berlin. Black and whites
of a bear rifled down in a square, boys in sun on rubble,
a woman wearing a gas mask pushing a pram.
I was examining each photo for a glimpse of street corner
or sidewalk, wondering if it could be the spot
where my ancestor the roofer’s head
smashed into the pavement when he fell, the loss
that earned the payout that put his children on a boat
that put me here, when I smelled something burning,
but what began as an acrid odor softened
to the familiar scent of bonfires, signature fragrance
of the dying season. I never know where it’s coming from,
but in it there’s always that warm anticipation
of Halloween I remember, and within that the disappointment
when it was never like the movies: no New England
facades, no sidewalks choked with kids, there weren’t
enough of us, and yet I hear children’s laughter
like I’m there again, not in the memory, but the expectation—
outside the window a girl is filming on her phone
another girl tossing handfuls of red maple
over her head. I can see on the screen the video
playing in a short, closed loop. The leaves go up,
then are rewound into her hands, never falling all the way
into the grass over which they’re scattered now
after she dropped them when suddenly a firetruck blared by,
awaking at my feet the dog I’m paid to keep alive.

More by William Brewer

Debris

   Storms are generous.
                                      Something so easy to surrender to, sitting by the window,
 and then you step out into the garden you were so bored of,
                 so bored of you hated it,
                                             but now it needs you.

                          Twang of the rake’s metal tines biting at the dirt.
   You destroy a little camp of mushrooms,
                                                                   pull leaves into a pile,
                                                                              are struck with wonder
                                                                   when there rolls out
                                                                                              a little bird’s nest—
                                                                                                 the garden’s
brain.

    You want to hide in it.
                               Twigs, mud, spit, and woven in:
a magenta strip of Mylar balloon that glints when turned to the sun,
                                                                                        a sway of color you’ve seen before. 

                 You were a boy.
   You told your grandfather you spotted a snake in the yard between the buckeyes.
He revved his weed whacker,
                                         walked over,
            conjured a rose mist from the grass
                                                            that swelled in the breeze, swirled together, grew dark,
                                                                        shifting through fans of sun,

                                                                                                            magenta, then plum,
blush,
               gone. 

Smell of exhaust. Tannins of iced tea
                                                            you drank together on the porch later,
                                                                                          his spiked with Wild Turkey,

                                                            the tumbler resting on his thigh,
                                    the ice-sweat running off, smearing the dried snake juice,
                                                                                          pooling in a divot of scar tissue.

       A souvenir, he called it,
from the winter spent sleeping in a hole in the ground in a Belgian wood,
                                                                               listening for German voices to start singing
                                                                                                   so he knew he could sleep.

Detox Psalm

Only in the slow braid of a dream
can you study want and need, their
patience, their cruelty. Amid the thin
trunks of their campfires’ smoke,
I watched the hours shed
their polished armor, clean and
sheathe their blades, water their
stallions, refuse to leave the shore.
Always a shore, overcast, a sun
that offers me to climb inside its mouth,
and therefore cannot be trusted.
You’re asking to be taken apart
without the help of time, in the face
of its broken promise to keep
forward. I thought to give myself
to the dogs, but they only gnawed 
my thighs. With the waves’ jade
coaxing, I heaved my every organ
through my mouth, then cut a mouth,
at last, in my abdomen and prayed
for there to be something more divine
than the body, and still something
more divine than that, for a torrent
of white flies to fly out of me,
anything, make me in the image
of the bullet. I begged, release me
from myself and I will end a life.
 

Leaving the Pain Clinic

Always this warm moment when I forgot which part of me
I blamed. Never mind the pills kicking in, their spell
that showers the waiting room, once full of shame,
in a soft rain of sparks that pity sometimes is,
how it mends the past like a welder seams metal,
and isn’t that why we’re all here, addicts
and arthritics—we close our eyes completely
but the edges only blur—and though the door’s the same,
somehow the exit, like the worst wounds, is greater
than the entrance was. I throw it open for all to see
how daylight, so tall, has imagination. It has heart. It loves.
 

Related Poems

Writing Home

An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.

We All Return to the Place Where We Were Born

What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
extending
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.

Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.

The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.

In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.

Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
clearly spoke
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.

The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.

It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.


Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos

De mi infancia solo quedan
     las visiones fragmentarias
          de los patios tendidos
               como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
 
 Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
     su profunda música de siglos
          y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
               meciéndose en la noche
                    siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.

La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
las leyendas
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.

Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
a soportar
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.

Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
decía oscuramente
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.

Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
     parecían darnos
          la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
               que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.

Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
     Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
          Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
               que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.

On the Persistence of the Letter as a Form

Dear murderous world, dear gawking heart,
I never wrote back to you, not one word

wrenched itself free of my fog-draped mind
to dab in ink the day's dull catalog

of ruin. Take back the ten-speed bike
which bent like a child's cheap toy

beneath me. Accept as your own
the guitar that was smashed over my brother,

who writes now from jail in Savannah,
who I cannot begin to answer. Here

is the beloved pet who died at my feet 
and there, outside my window,

is where my mother buried it in a coffin
meant for a newborn. Upon

my family, raw and vigilant, visit numbness.
Of numbness I know enough.

And to you I've now written too much,
dear cloud of thalidomide,

dear spoon trembling at the mouth,
dear marble-eyed doll never answering back.