Greg Brownderville
 

Greg Alan Brownderville grew up in Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas, a small community in the Delta where his father and grandfather farmed cotton. Brownderville’s work reflects his participation in the musical and storytelling traditions of the Delta, as well as his attentive study of the English-language poetical tradition.

In June 2005, Brownderville came out with his first book, Deep Down in the Delta, which features his poetry along with a selection of the folktales he gathered in his home region during the years 1999-2002. His work has been published in The Oxford American, www.thehypertexts.com , Edge City Review, and elsewhere.

In 2004, Brownderville publicized the assemblage sculpture of Sister Law, the late primitive folk artist and Pentecostal preacher of Patterson, Arkansas, and saw to it that a large collection of her artworks was accepted and housed by Ouachita Baptist University of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In 2005, Brownderville received an award from the Arkansas Press Association for a piece he published in the Woodruff County MONITOR about Law’s contribution to Southern art and culture. In 2002, as editor of a small weekly newspaper, Brownderville played a leading role in a successful local campaign to prevent the diking and draining of the lower White and Cache rivers of his native Delta countryside. Two years later, the ivory-billed woodpecker, previously thought to be extinct, was discovered soaring above Cache River and Bayou DeView, about a mile from which the poet grew up and his parents’ home remains.

Brownderville has read his poems and delivered lectures on poetry at several colleges, universities, and high schools, and has also performed in blues bands as a singer and French harp player from Arkansas to Carolina. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in English at Ole Miss. Copies of his book can be purchased at his website, www.gregbrownderville.com

A Welder’s New Year’s Eve

… what to make of a diminished thing.

--Robert Frost, The Oven Bird

Another ice storm, someone else is dead.
She’s on a ditch bank in the car she crashed,
sixteen years old. The lone eyewitness said
she tried to round McDaniel’s Curve too fast.

I’ll use what tools I have to exorcise
a ghost with auburn curls and a smashed skull,
scour the bloodstains, take this twisted steel
and make it gleam again so that fresh eyes
might look on it with innocence. Perhaps
a year from now someone will buy it for
a son or daughter’s sweet sixteen. One hopes.
And I’ll be damned if there’s a trace of her
perfume to haunt the senses when I’m done.

December’s dying, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Stunningly, out of nowhere, there appears
a momentary welder in the weather.
It bears down on the witching hour, arcs,
and melts the new year and the old together—
lightning on ice, a blinding spray of sparks.

I weld things, too, some days till I’m in tears,
and scrub till every memory is gone,
till no one hears the screams that echo there.
These hands can do some good. One hopes. One fears.

When the Wick of Day Expires

When the wick of day expires
in cloud-consuming fires,
along a road as lonesome as a catacomb,
blackbirds make rosaries of highline wires,
and somewhere there’s a sigh,
somewhere a desperate cry,
and here within this lonesome home
a man decides to die.

Reasons

An utterly unlabored thought
that takes away the sting,
like an unexpected crystal rock
polished by a spring;
the day that dawns when nights are swarming,
like sun on the blade of a knife;
your breathing in my bed this morning:
reasons men have clung to life.

The Map Turtle on Mann’s Road

I jog the sandy fencerows every day,
dreading the sun-wet pavement where I cross
Mann’s Road. One morning there, at a slow pace,
a doomed map turtle, like a runaway
hemisphere, neared the yellow line. I’d say
the closest car lacked one block reaching us.
Though conscience told me, Nudge him to the grass,
my blistering, bare feet would not obey.
Next day, on Mann’s Road, half a dozen shards
of crackled turtle shell were strewn about.
One sliced my falling foot, jagged and hard
against weak flesh, making the blood pour out.
Whatever suffering that we condone,
before the stench relents, may be our own.
 

The Love Song of Jephthah’s Daughter Greg Brownderville

For two months in these mountains, not a thought
of all the pleasure your lithe body might have brought
me, oh your bright, wet body, smooth and firm
but giving, giving—moonless midnight caught
in your humid eyes. Two months with a swarm
of hornets in my head, my life a private storm,

I did not pluck a leaf of sycamore
and touch it to my face, nor linger to adore
a rose bush or the garden of stars in bloom.
My spirit, as a panicked prisoner
hallucinates the shrinking of her room,
gasped with a claustrophobic consciousness of doom.

But then you brushed a leaf of sycamore
across my softening face, my breasts, my inner thighs.
Whispered, You have me. Men, gods, vows of war—
forgotten when I searched your secret eyes.
My life was locked inside my bones no more.
I breathed it into you, I breathed it to the skies.

Night spreads like a burn; I don’t have long.
Yahweh would crush this country if I disobeyed.
Tell the poets I’ll have no mourning song.
What are humans given but a day—
marred by fear, pain, our rage at being wronged—
one darkening day to love, to love ourselves away?

I Leave Women Crying Everywhere I Go

They call me Papa Cherry. Lots of ladies think I’m cool.
You might have heard about me and you might have heard I’m cruel.
I take no braggy pleasure in my knack for working woe.
I leave women crying everywhere I go.

That gray December day
when I fled home for good,
Mama--I can see her now--she stood
in the driveway
with miniature Mississippi Rivers of mascara
running down her face, and like to stared a
hole through my disappearing wheels.
Only a wayward son knows how that feels.
We’d never meet in life again. Somehow, she seemed to know.
I leave women crying everywhere I go.

Belinda, sweet Belinda,
was a virgin from Virginia.
I didn’t offer diamonds or commitments to beguile her
when we met at Jitney Jungle and she urged me to defile her.
Claw-like at first, her fingers turned to feathers.
She told me all her secrets and we laughed a lot together.
Before we ever kissed that first delicious day,
I told her I would only be in town for a short stay.
As parting time drew nigh,
her smile seemed more and more to be a mask,
a mask to hide her sorrow
and the questions she was scared to ask.
My last night in her bed, through a slightly opened eye--
three a.m., moonlight pouring in the window--
I saw her sitting up to watch me sleep.
To this day, it kills to face that memory of Belinda.
You rarely ever know until you’re in too deep.
When the sun rose, she helped me pack my stuff.
I wished so bad she hadn’t or I too had been in love.
At the bus stop, she held me and her tears sank in the snow.
I leave women crying everywhere I go.

By the way,
let me say:
Belinda had my only child, and never told me so.
I heard it from a mutual friend about a year ago.
Nervous and sweating like a whore in church,
I tracked my daughter down at her plush place of work.
She’s lovely, rich, and capable, and I felt mighty proud.
She knew me when she saw me
and broke down, cussed me out,
rushed me out.
The No-Show’s all she’d call me.
She said her life was one place I would never be allowed.
A broken-hearted girl’s inside that sleek, chic CEO.
I leave women crying everywhere I go.

Grace

Before she walked away through the snowstorm;
before her hair, into the fading day,
dissolved like sun-stem on a rippling lake--
“I’m leaving you for Poetry,” I said.
She tried to kiss some sense into my head.

Morning.

I woke alone, my linens rich
with hints of her cologne. Breathing her scent,
I thought about the scalding winter nights,
and missed the way she kissed, the way she blissed
my ear with her sly wit. God knows she had
the charms to show why harps were ever strung,
all charms to show why ever songs were sung.

Keeping to my routine, I stepped outside
just as the morning sun awoke the skies,
and walked toward the field where, only hours
before, my words had blurred her eyes. I wished
I could rip time and, through the tear, climb back
to yesterday and live that moment over.

And then, I swear, the sad scene was rewound:
At the opposite of sundown, Grace came, calling
out my name. At least a thousand geese, as we
drew closer, left the earth, their shuddering whiteness
the previous evening’s snowstorm in reverse.

On Coming Back to Goethe’s “Prometheus” Greg Brownderville

Our power was out, still out, when like a pail
turned upside down, the sky ran out of hail.
In the lone room lit by the coal-oil lamp,
I heard my father, heard a sticky stomp
on our linoleum floor, his lonesome voice,
and like two tin cans’ clanking, the dread noise
of hope he wrung from his old box guitar.
Dark days were bad to stain and he to scour.
Why try? I shouted silently as dirty
hands made music backward and herky-jerky.
Then the closing of his wretched raccoon’s eyes.

Take my hand, precious lord began to slice
my mind, warping my private world of German
as my whole blessed soul grew sore as a risin’.
Away down deep, I wished he’d up and vanish.

He was an old man in spring cleaning fish
when the life left his great sun-wrinkled arms.
He’s Arkansas now, free from all alarms,
silent: The Fire Smuggler is mine to heed.
But tonight all that I can do is bleed
old stagnant tears and wish I could wade back
that faraway time in a shotgun shack.
I would shun Prometheus and fetch my French
harp, key of G, and slink down by the bench
he sat on when he cracked pecans or twanged
on his red box guitar. That tin-can clank
would do me good. I would love his scent
of diesel and strive, strive to comprehend
the soul and soil behind the herky-jerk,
and blow along until it felt like church.

Firecrackers

My childhood favorite was the one that popped
high in the air and dropped a little plastic
paratrooper. Hard to see and harder
to catch, it drifted towards the cotton patch
amid a burst of blue, electrical
confetti. As black blizzards of mosquitoes
dizzied me, mesmerized me with their hum,
the paratrooper landed in the loam,
magnificently mine—like burning words
I’d aimed at heaven, come back as a poem.

Anne at Sunrise Greg Brownderville

Lying amid her beauty,
like a blind man who feels
to see, tracing her undulant body,
I dream of rolling hills.

As if a living canvas
painted itself, the air
becomes the golden horizon of Kansas,
then the golden horizon of her.

With a warming chill of yellow,
something like morning seeps
through me. Something like limoncello.
Clothed in clean light, she sleeps.


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