After Six Months of Drought
by J. Scott Brownlee


The land collapses here
into back-country void.
Racists fire up trucks
to drag black men behind
like farm animals, laughing
each time they do it.


A couple boys I know
kissed each other, once—
probably did other things.
That’s taboo in this place.
You can be killed for it
like the black man got killed,
except worse—your prick cut.


If there was something
as redemptive as a Christ
risen up, I’d believe. Here,
there’s only the road
with its white crosses
showing where cars skidded off.


One says simply, "Michael"
—and another, "Coleman."
I have looked for my name
in each empty culvert,
and at every Rest Stop
between town and Austin,
but have yet to find it.


A lot of people try to tell me
things I should do at the store.
"Trust in God," one man says
in the aisle where I buy condoms.
They are old. Even so, I am sure
they will work. I can’t imagine
having sex without some covering.
I guess this man feels the same thing as me—
albeit in reverse. He can’t imagine love
made to his wife with latex between them.


My poems always have a narrative
in them because the content of the form
has a story to tell—one I hold in the palm
of my hand, close to me, like a new religion
or a wound that won't heal. You'd be linear,
too, if you came from a place where the river
splits light like a straight razor's edge.


They say the Devil’s number, 666,
evidences our future torment at The Tribulation.
They have never read Job. If they read Job,
they’d see—finally—him in them. If they turned
to Ecclesiastes, they would hear honest answers,
even though they are bleak: "This is our best
and only life. There can be no other."


"Live it fully. Live it while you can."
You cannot return it. Life is not like Wal-Mart.
The soldier I saw shopping there seemed a ghost
of himself. He asked, "Why are you here?"
and I said, "To buy beer." And he said,
"Oh, okay. I forget, sometimes, why
I am here, where it is that I am."


The trees, even, shake with stories—
saying oblivion has no voice here
except what they give it when
the wind moves through them.
I've learned to listen for
and comprehend that much.


People want to say my white trash kin
love Republican fervor, Jesus Christ,
and illiteracy—meth-clad hands
reaching up for hand-outs or Amens.
But no one from the Times ever showed up
to verify this when the drought threatened
our survival. Using his cell phone a reporter
first called up the mayor, then the super-
intendent, then some car salesman.


He missed most of the town, so I wrote him
a letter of complaint asking, "Why not visit?
I'm a poet. Fly down, and I'll show you around.
We can start on the north side of town,
where the poorest folks live in tin shacks
or foreclosed-on trailers. They are witnesses, too."


"Don't you forget they have stories to tell.
If you do, then you're no better here
than the drought's erasure—burning back to ashes
the only evidence they ever lived at all:
a line for them, a line for each of them—
3,033—left perpetually blank."

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