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Molly McCully Brown

Molly McCully Brown is the author of The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), winner of the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. With Susannah Nevison, she is the coauthor of the forthcoming In the Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020). She is the recipient of fellowships from United States Artists and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, among others. The recipient of the 2018–2019 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, Brown currently lives abroad.

By This Poet

2

Post-Op Letters in the Field Between Us

and Susannah Nevison

 

Dear M—
I know there’s no going back,
no clearing to be found,
no curling ring of grass where
an animal, bedded down,
cries out and breaks me open
because she’s calling back
to me, wherever I still wait,
from wherever it is we first
learned the body’s another door
the world slams shut each time
we think to drag ourselves out
of the line of sight, beyond the scope
of whatever hand would yoke us
to each other, would have us
bent and humbled, poor machines,
poor beasts, whose tongues learn
first to cry and then to speak,
who can’t go home, when where
we’re from is already gone, already
burning down, graven inside us
like every ancient tree,
so we always already know
who we belong to, where we
belong, where there’s no going
back, or getting lost or found—
*
Dear S—
Let’s just say we are rewound: grow
smaller and more animal, come back unstitched,
the hands inside of us recede into their sleeves,
the knives resheathe, the needle punctures weave
together perfect, blank, then absent. Say our tendons
tighten down, our bones go back to bowing, say we curl,
some hoof returns, the bodies that we know revert
to fictions from a place we didn’t go. Say where we are
it’s snowing, and we’re sheltered the way wild, loved things
are when they are new: a nest of winter grass, a little down,
some hollow where the weather strains to reach. Say that
we’ve never been afraid, we’ve never howled, we’ve never
been in pain. There’s still a storm outside, there’s still some
larger thing with teeth, there’s still the day something will
nose us to get up and walk, then run, and when we can’t
will leave without us fearing yet another winter, or a gun.
*
Dear M—
If we can’t come stumbling
down the path that’s never lit,
if we can’t slip through the wire
fence and if it rends our skin,
our hair, if we bleed, if we claw
the earth, if we don’t call out
and nothing comes running, if we
rest awhile, if we wait and nothing
comes, M, will we stay tangled
in the wire, along the edge
of winter, if something gentle’s
out of reach, will we stay and twist
the wire into shapes we know,
unshod hoof and bowed bone,
if we call them ours, if we make
such wire children and string
them up, if we rust, if our children
are wire stars above us, if they
are always out of reach, if we can’t
twist free, if we bed down inside
ourselves, if our children swing
beyond us, if they don’t resemble us—
*
Dear S—
If we are hooked there in the fence,
if the ice on our hides names us
a thing for staying, but the children
we’ve contorted finally do twist free
of how we’ve strung them up—both
the shapes we gave them and the ones
we would not pass along—if it turns
out that they are only light blinked
down from a radio tower, or the blood
we’ve loosed in rivulets by chewing
on our own bad legs, or some alluvium
composed of all the lither things that ran
downhill toward water. If we’re left to work
the barbs out of the skin they bloomed in,
work out the difference among flesh,
and steel, and shade that nightfall has
false-miracled to bodies, cold, like nothing
in the river when we reach for them.
*
Dear M—
Last night I dragged the river
again. I went looking
in the water for the children
I left there, the ones that
catch like leaves and twigs
in the dam or fence, the ones
I set down like little boats
and the ones I set down
like little stones. I’m beginning
to believe they were never
more than shadows, slipping
in and out of the room while
I slept, leaving little notes
for me that disappeared
as soon as I thought to touch
them. You said our eyes
can remake a thing, change
a shape by looking.
I don’t want another thing
to lose its skin or come
undone. It’s enough that
I can’t remember the shapes
of the things I’ve loved
or the things I’ve made
in one body or another,
so I must make them up:
Here is a heart-shaped hoof.
Here is a hoof-shaped heart.
*

 

 

 

 

Dear S—
Last night I tried to sleep inside a blank
hotel room, made the bed a boat,
believed the smell of bleach was just
the water filling up with salt, just
gulls sounding outside the window, just
the tide and all the strange things it drags
up and beaches, bone-bright, on the cliffs.
The ocean hunts itself at night for all
that has survived in the wrong place,
that has outlived its usefulness,
come loose, or gotten lost, or fallen
far behind when other colonies have eased
right out to sea. It has a mechanism
for determining belonging, true as gravity
and all the quartz, and lime, and iron that
comprise the moon. I comb the beach
for shapes I recognize and every night
my children don’t wash up I think,
There’s still a chance for them,
and every night I don’t find my own face
ripe for unmaking, I’m surprised.

Dear Maker,

and Molly McCully Brown

 

Under my body’s din,
             a hum that won’t quiet,
I still hear what you’ve hidden
             in all the waves of sound:
each bead of pain
             that buries its head
like a black-legged tick,
             intractable but mine
to nurse or lure with heat.
             Please, tell me
what it means that I’ve grown
             to love the steady sound
of so many kinds of caving in,
             buckling down, the way
a body gives itself away
             like a sullen bride or the runt
who couldn’t latch? I know I’m just
             a hairline crack the music
leaves behind. I love
             the music, though I can’t keep it.