Russell Brakefield




The wind that fills this city strips the edges
                of the swaying stoplights,
tears the paint and stone from statues,
                puddles progress in the gutters,

in a stew of burnt color. How the metal cranes move
                together here, face one another
across the shallow river—hunting birds stuck on posts
                of their own sleek legs.

and what prey settles among these rocks?
                Below the steeple tops like
trout, sparks, thinning flocks, men bend together
                inside pockets of the days’

current. Let these lines of steel lie across
                the days’ gray light like
a skirt across the sky. The pines along the ridge
                swallow rows of six-pack stick-builts,

old men sweeping glass against the baseboards,
                fences burning into wild spined rows
into the fields beyond the package shop. This is autumn,
                rust on a fender— forget

for a moment that the measure of time turns always
                towards the shadow of the pasture
or factory, survival inside the shallow light of shift
                after shift, dawn after hungry dawn, Forget now

this place, alive inside the thousand swollen palms
                that wilt to rough petals
at its reigns. This wind— a sour ghost stuck
                against the sky, a milky body

breaking daily from the Medium’s mouth.
                These streets are so shy, they cling
to the past, to violence, to the dozens of men
                and their hands in motion.

The endless gasp of working time— the closest thing
                to seeing a spirit broke open.



On the train today a rainy landscape fills my pillowcase.
The passing fence posts run up against one another—

                    a counting off of distance,
                    thin spirits pressed against the sky.

How strange going home, and leaving a home of my own,
her body still asleep in a pile in the blue morning light.

With no music as my muse, I have lived
here like quiet lightning on the lakes,

                    like the empty bucket beneath a ceiling leak.

To attempt a life of sincere simplicity,
implies the hardest task of all—

                    concession so stern it shakes the soul
                    into nothing but a silhouette, a mere echo

                    of some sweet and distant song.

I know her hands—

                    unfolding slow as brittle branches—

will long hang white from lack of touch or warning.

                    My own are rashed with little deaths
                    at each patch of field that clips

                    into the little window box beside my seat.

May I never have to tell a son how much I left
for fear alone, describe the hot tracks beneath me now

                    as a heavy, haunting metronome.

Outside the dusk lays further down against the sky
and I force my mind to myth.

To love the land, I tell myself, is to love her
sufficiently, even having left.

She too will soon return into that earth
and decompose with all the rest.
RUSSELL BRAKEFIELD’S most recent work appears of is forthcoming in The Indiana Review, NY Quarterly, Drunken Boat, and Poet Lore. He teaches writing at the University of Michigan and works as the managing editor for Canarium Books.

Read more by Russell Brakefield:

Bluegrass Today
Drunken Boat
Midwestern Gothic