On March 1st by James Brush

On March 1st

the grackles opened
like gates in the trees
shadow birds, eyes glistening
you could almost imagine
these noisy shades
abandoning tangible birds,
parking lots and steel dumpsters
in their odyssey through
suburban woods,
clacking and creaking
like machines or clocks
ticking away the last
hoarse seconds of winter.

by James Brush, from Birds Nobody Loves.

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush

Editor’s note: This poem’s vivid imagery repurposes a flock that most people love hate into a delightful spectacle of lines and words.

sometimes coyotes by James Brush

sometimes coyotes

sometimes there are coyotes
all around the house

they bed down in the front yard
in the trees and behind my memories

asleep with one eye open watching stars
twirl the pole counted and known

they’ll rise and howl at owls, the moon
or anyone else impersonating

strangers who come up to the yard
they stalk a defensive perimeter

while we sleep while we dream
they open the fridge and eat

the last of the girl scout cookies
a little whipped cream for their coffee

come morning they’ve gone, a few
paw prints in the dewy grass

by James Brush

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush

Editor’s note: Surreal, dreamlike imagery moves through this poem, much like a wild animal moves through the spaces we think we own.

Ode to a Cheap Blue Guitar by James Brush

Ode to a Cheap Blue Guitar

Give you twenty bucks
for that old Ko-RE-an thang,
the pawn shop man drawled.

Horrified, I walked out. Tried to
hold tight to you, beautiful
blue first love stratclone guitar.

But the Ford’s tires were flat,
the bills were due, and you
never sang in my hands.

We just never connected
like I would with others, later,
with lower actions whose necks

felt better in my fumbling
hands. But beauty stutters
the lips, and you were ocean

midnight neon airport lights,
the color of the sounds I wanted.
But those thintread tires needed

changing. We said goodbye.
Sometimes I still try to find you.
We’ll reconnect on eBay, maybe

Craigslist. I poke my head
in some south Austin pawn shop
hoping you’re still around twenty

years later, that headstock nick
from the ceiling fan a story
only you and I will ever know.

by James Brush

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush
books: Birds Nobody Loves, A Place Without a Postcard

Editor’s note: Imagery and personification give the guitar in this ode a rich life. This line, “the color of the sounds I wanted,” is the center of this poem for me.

Blown Away by James Brush

Blown Away

I saw the wind today
not evidence of wind
like a leaf skittering
through traffic
actual wind—just
for a moment like
glare in glasses
when you turn your head
(but I wasn’t wearing glasses)
the wind was there
and it wasn’t
like a mourning dove
disappearing into grayer
fog

fingers twitch
like a rattlesnake
twitch like
a harmless rat snake
fooling those who come
too close
the judgement passed
too easily by those
who say he’s just white trash
who say he deserved that bullet
behind the chicken joint

Prayers go mumbling to the sky
mumbling
to the graying sky
the wind answers
forgets for a moment
invisibility
just for that moment
fleeting, gone
before I even knew it was there
but I knew it was there
I knew

by James Brush

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush

Editor’s note: The lack of regular punctuation adds to the off-balance narrative in this poem. Wind is both literal and metaphorical.

Made or Just Happened by James Brush

Made or Just Happened

They say Voyager crossed the heliopause
last summer with thirty thousand years to go
to clear the sun’s gravity. Our plutonium
spark, a flicker of human warmth returning
to the stars like that first purple martin
returning again in the spring to the place
where he was hatched or the salmon
swimming up blue streams. We are called
home to where our atoms first began,
the water, the sky, the stars. The silent iron
in our blood aches for the supernovae
and so lying on our backs beneath
the wind-swaying oak trees, we hold
hands and watch the stars, imagining that
long journey whose end we’ll never know.

by James Brush

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush
books: Birds Nobody Loves, A Place Without a Postcard

Editor’s note: This poem marries the starry expanse to a simple human touch with nary a hiccup. Lovely imagery.

The Gear Turner’s Work by James Brush

The Gear Turner’s Work

the gear turner’s burden
is a wrench and lonely work
on the plains beyond
old 66 where grass

fire prays the flowers
into smoke he turns
his shoulder to his work

where he sweats the ground
grows mud he knows
the hoarse and tired voices
calling from the gears

creaking aching groaning
rusty throats and steel tongues

pinned and staked
burned and buried all the years
forgotten when the earth closed
healing on their work
in strange articulation

the gear turner hears a song
the old machines the old machines
he’ll whisper to the others
when evening fires burn low

he’ll creak and groan
in steel tongue stolen
riddles to their questions

by James Brush

literary journal: Gnarled Oak
twitter: @jdbrush
books: Birds Nobody Loves, A Place Without a Postcard

Editor’s note: Gorgeous use of enjambment to advance the rhythm and sonics of this poem.