The Cremation of Voices
You’ll wish you had it all back, they say.
But wishing is for wells.
I had a fireplace, and I
reached in and yanked open
the coughing sooty flue.
Men have a history of building big dumb fires.
Driving everyone away from the warmth with heat.
Setting a forest on fire to rebirth it.
Burning Man. Or Hiroshima.
I made mine small, out of history
gone cold: heart-dotted i’s
and decadent initial caps in folded
grade school correspondence,
postcards dense with longing posed as brevity,
hate speeches, Dear Johns.
Birthday cards signed Dad
beneath where Mom had written love.
The taste of blue-tip sulfur behind
my two front teeth washed
down with wine.
The pyre caught and rushed
up the chimney of itself to escape
a box of me I would never see again.
Voices plumed into January stratosphere.
Cinders liberated from storage units of memory.
Attics of denial echoing
like an empty cathedral collapsing.
It’s a miracle no one was hurt.
A shame no one was inside.
The Things That Stick
Dad sits across from me.
His bruised hands hesitate.
Before the tremors
his fingers manipulated pocketknives
and chewing gum wrappers
and drywall tape and mud.
We are waiting for ribs
as he prepares a syringe and insulin.
Rolls the bottle between his hands to warm it
clicking against his wedding band.
He plunges the needle into his stomach.
Quick and practiced like a sniper
assembling a rifle blindfolded.
I was the only one who saw.
It is bearable because he remains
calm as it happens.
We even laugh at how frail he has become.
I don’t have to try anymore
to make my voice sound like his
when he says you just plain fall
apart when you get old.
The silence after the laughter dies
is broken by our waitress carrying platters.
The meat so tender
it slides right off the bones.
Whatever else happens
is happening to us all the time.
A hundred miles on snake-colored roads
clogged with black socks and sandals
trout print Hawaiian shirts
trophy wives riding shotgun
convertibles fast for no guard rail
life by the sip with cracker
palette cleansing chasers.
I was a tourist passing through her
spilling my guts in gravel parking lots
about how my ex-wife done me wrong.
Worrying a buzz down to drivable.
Vultures pin-wheeled in a cloudless sky.
An entire ecosystem devoted to giving
a little taste to entice then off
down sinuous curves of savannah
freckled with Mexicans
bent toward irrigated earth.
We developed a language for enjoying
something more than it deserves:
Take a swig but don’t swallow.
Suck it through purpling teeth.
Swirl it around like Listerine.
Then tilt the head toward rustic
hand-hewn tasting room beams
and pronounce Ah, Tuscany
certain we would never make it there.
Tony Brewer is a poet and sound effects artist from Bloomington, Indiana. He has work forthcoming in Plain Spoke and the anthology And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society Press). His first book of poems is The Great American Scapegoat (2006); his latest chapbook is Little Glove in a Big Hand (Plan B Press, 2010); and he is one-quarter of the performance ensemble Reservoir Dogwoods. More at www.IndianaPoetryTour.com.