Prayer to be Still and Know

Lord, let my ears go secret agent, each
a microphone so hot it picks up things
silent, reverbing even the hum of stone
close to its eager, silver grill. Let my ears forget
years trained to human chatter
wired into every room, even those empty
except of me, each broadcast and jingle
tricking me into being less
lonely than I am. Let my ears forget
the clack and rumble, our tambourining and fireworking
distractions, our roar of applause. Let my hands quit
their clapping and rest in a new kind of prayer, one
that doesn’t ask but listens, palms up in my lap.
Like an owl, let me triangulate icy shuffling under snow as
vole, let me not just name the name
when I spot a soundtrack of birdsong
but understand the notes through each syrinx
as a singular missive—begging, flirting, fussing, each
companion call and alarm as sharp with desire and fear
as my own. Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry
satellites, have your way with their tiny bones,
teach the drum within that dark to drum
again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker
is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside
his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark.
And somewhere I know is a spider who births
a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere,
a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of
fern. And somewhere, a mink not made into a coat
cracks open a mussel’s shell, and with her mouth full
of that gray meat, yawns. Those are your sounds, are they not?
Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny
me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush
a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes
to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes
as I wish and blow that perfect globe away;
I only know the small, satisfactory
popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it
from the yard. There is a language of all
you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be
still enough to hear. Right here, Lord:
I want to be. 

More by Nickole Brown

Black bird, red wing

So this is where the last year 
of the Mayan calendar begins—
5,000 birds falling on Beebe, 
Arkansas, a state that could smooth 
out with the sway of the plains 
but instead sputters the silence 
of the first syllable like a pothole 
that hits before you're off the 
on ramp—say it—
ar-    
           -can-saw—
ending with that blade 
of rusted teeth to chew 
through the last of what's left 
of those woods, a fast-driving 
diesel flatbed of felled trees 
and all of us in a tight spot 
between that chugging machine 
and the concrete barrier 
as we hope the straight back 
of our consonants will 
hold, even if they are quiescent 
monsters, reticent prayers, 
because we can't help it, we lean 
towards letters that do not bend, 
try our exhausted weight 
on the middle of that state, 
that silent K—the shape of a man 
trying to hold up the ceiling, 
trying not to think 
of its falling 
as the sky's.

For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
           but chose a scent—a signature—every day
                      you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
                                 notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
           who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
                      husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
                                 the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
           a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
                      that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
                                 now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
           was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
                      of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
                                 mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
           of your ghost lingered hours after you
                      were gone, and last month, I stalked
                                 a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
           my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
                      How can manufactured particles carry you
                                 through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
           stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
           trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
                      I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
                                 worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
           I would have pressed my face to her small
                      shoulder, and with the sheer work of
                                 two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
           conjure
                      you back
                                 to me.

Fanny Linguistics: Nickole

What people don’t know about my name
is that my grandmother gave me that “k”
                       —my very own unexpected
consonant—
                       those two strong arms and two strong legs,
that broom-handle spine—
                       that letter about no one with a name
same as mine has.

A mis-
           spelling, really—
                      the same botched phonetics of all her
girls’ names,
           misspelled but fancy

as chandeliers—Latonna Lee, Candies La Rayne, Lesi Annett 
            —names that know never to drink
            lemon water from a silver fingerbowl

but names that can be bobbed with a “y”
            and cheerlead.

Now, she called me Koey, so don’t expect me to respond
to the first nasal tone of my name
            but the harsher           cough 

that follows, that typo tambourined
from the back of the throat. I’ll answer to cold & coal & coke
    sometimes 

            even hear that sound as a scoop of coco, something dry

from the tin, but warmed with a little sugar and milk, a name
    snowing
            while it’s safe inside.

Related Poems

Square Cells

The screens plant bulbs
of tension inward, but hit no nerves.

River of speechless current.
My gaze faces the screen, laps up

blue-eyed policemen in bloom
and a fat fog fanning out by the inch

across cities in eastern China.
Refresh for a politician yawning

wolfish monosyllables.
In the bed of pixels, I can make out

truth and fiction taking turns,
one imitating the other.

My window faces stone and glass.
My screen faces my face.

The clean square cells of this city
contain so many faces.

Each brightened by a fear
which makes them commonplace.

The Radio Animals

The radio animals travel in lavender clouds. They are always chattering, they are always cold. Look directly at the buzzing blur and you'll see twitter, hear flicker—that's how much they ignore the roadblocks. They're rabid with doubt. When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud, the heat in their bones lends them a temporary gravity and they sink to the ground. Their little thudding footsteps sound like "Testing, testing, 1 2 3" from a far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite echo, patter. On land, they scatter into gutters and alleyways, pressing their noses into open Coke cans, transmitting their secrets to the silver circle at the bottom of the can. Of course we've wired their confessionals and hired a translator. We know that when they call us Walkie Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of true or false.

What New Name

What new name will you bear in a world governed by code and calculation

What program will reveal the ratio between communal identities and the loss of the body

You are not known or pronounced

Your nonce nonchalance does not convince

Your scores are neither high enough to qualify, nor deep enough to be legible, nor detailed enough to play from

Custodian of nothing, childless, rude and startled

So many scintillating shards or conversations when things shatter

Savagely unbodied by the microscopic architecture of psalmless palm

Drawn means tired or created or a naked sword or tied up and torn asunder

It’s not loving someone who can’t love you back, but the end of loving them that’s the saddest

Now emotional intimacy has tech, yoga has tech, sex has tech, even tech has tech

You don’t even know what day it is, what the weather is like or where you’re supposed to be next

Let yourself be found like water through rocks, you are what’s lost, you are the pool collecting in the ground

Speak now speak always speak in the long undrawn colloquy of night