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James Brasfield

James Brasfield was born in Savannah, Georgia. He received a BA from Armstrong State University and an MFA from Columbia University. He is the author of Infinite Altars (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and Ledger of Crossroads (Louisiana State University Press, 2009). He also translated The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha (Harvard University Press, 1999), winner of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Brasfield has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Penn State University and lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

By This Poet


Early Afternoon, Having Just Left the Chapel of San Francesco

Radiant the delayed calmness,
—Do you feel it, I said. —Yes, you said,

of what only each can know,
kernel of radiance, the globo terrestre

of a water drop, not the passing adaptations
of canonical light, but seconds stilled—

our hearts beating through the moments—centuries
of the next tick of a watch relieved,

a world enough in time to imagine
Piero walk to work across cobblestones

toward a completion, his close attention
to sunlight passing through shadows

owned by the sharp angles of buildings,
sunrays warming what they touch. 
Piero, first a painter, is not a monk. 
He will make what welcomes light

a source of light: slow the day
he will add lucent black wings

to white feathers of the magpie
ever alight on a roof-edge.

I found a feather on a stone, feather I thought
from the angel’s wing, that arc of light

held aloft in descent, shared with us
and Constantine in his dream. 

I think of a white egret returning home near
the high creek, through unwavering

evening light, to sleep, sleep at Sansepolcro,
where we were headed in a rental car.


         How time slowed when any thought     
     or apprehension of the next instant
             vanished (no obligation, then or later),

         how in that long moment, all at once,
     yet without surprise, how what was close
             was present in a sudden suspense,   

         as such things rarely exist
     as they did then, each apart from all,
             seen as it might be truly,

         and gave way to a pleasure
     that had long been missing,
             to expleasure, as if I were akin

          to the smallest things—ribs
      of a leaf, penny on a dresser—
              of a saving stillness, doubtless

          always here, just beyond
      the scrim of what calls us
             from that silent astonishment,

           the more so since the feeling
       dissolves with its presence of detail
                merging with a distant seeing,

           as when I walk through a room
       and nothing is equal there to the calm
                 from the simply seen.   


A cortege of clouds’
shifting planes 

reflected on a river,
the current’s weave deepens,

yet motionless
the dramatization of

a fern unfolding,
light illuminating the air

for a moment’s threshold,
when time, where we stand,

corresponds to the day
held firm,

derived from the elegance of
the equation

for what was once never here.