Ritual

 

Give me the bull nettle’s bloom so that I may pluck it.
Tear my skin into strips the color of laughter which is whiter

than this page, this preaching, even. My life is not a pinch
of ash or caliche powder unless first captured here & held

—photographic & as faint as Turin on the cheek of Jesus
whether or not his gaze ever opened to it. Synaptic caw

of the homesick crow perched on a wire fence, teach me
to turn from famine so that I may flourish in my own

unknowing as the trough of water that is always empty
in this pasture except when whitetail approach it.  I want

to be the clean well water & also drink it.  Each feather
left now in dust, totemic, beckons back a black bit

of my blue-blood knowledge before snakeskin took it. 
My body grows & has grown Germanic as a river mouth

swallowing up another.  Let my tongue not confess 
what my soul is about, since I do not know where

river reaches ocean & sea jellyfish ease into catfish marshes.   
The sky between here & the stars has its own alphabet

& clear mathematics, all dark matter & mass heavy
without measure.  Its cosmic myth remains untellable

despite the fact, on moonless nights, I’m reflected in it.

 


Oracle

  

We learn belief is important: conviction a fist the dead make turning back
                                         to harm us.  But
the dead are handless & the author of what comes next makes no appearances
                                         on the schedule.
Autographs today?  No.  Merely cedar, mesquite, & bee brush between us
                                         & this call &
response hypnotizing June hummingbirds to wildflowers—blue chords spring-
                                         fed & clear
as a face washed in dew on the edge of what first compelled you to say mother,
                                         or father,  
or sister, or brother, or love as your five commandments.  Sacrifice him to me,
                                         the voice said
over you.  But the blade of your knife cut a different phrase vertically on that summit.
                                         From the nothing 
you knew cried a, Do not do this.  You looked around you but could not source it. 
                                         & yet the absence
from which it came entered your flesh as presence that was good & filled you
                                         for ten generations. 
New stars dimmed or didn't.  God withdrew suddenly.  Your son called out to you.

 

 


J. Scott Brownlee is a poet from Llano, Texas. His work appears widely and includes the chapbook Highway or Belief, which won the 2013 Button Poetry Prize, as well as Ascension, which won the 2014 Robert Phillips Poetry Prize. His first full-length collection, Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, was selected by C. Dale Young as the winner of the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize. Brownlee is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class. A former Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, he currently lives in Brooklyn.

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