This is the end of the poem
the horses that dragged you
up here have collapsed they
breathe their jagged burning
breaths to the stabbing rhythm
of their absent hoofbeats but
don’t worry they won’t die
yet something always has to
hurt a small or scarlet while
for us to get here where you
can turn around and watch
the plains be frayed by silent
rain that you will flee though
can’t smell or hear it because
you know that in the patient
hands of time even water is
a blade nothing can avoid
you’ll try anyway though you
take off your satin sash and
drape it over a cactus that now
bears the burden of your name
your debts the way you tie bad
knots that somehow hold
or cook with butter when
when the pan screams oil
you sling your sack of thimbles
over your shoulder and set off
remembering from the poem
that sent you running up here
only that it beat repeatingly
on your chest whispering Not
yet not yet not yet not yet
The sun kicks a shim of light
into a crack in the cloud shrouding Agony Ridge,
sets it on fire and kicks it in deeper.
A small violence to open the day.
A little luminous example
for the hammerblows ringing the valley,
fixing sheds and roofs and porches.
Not like the day is a store or a door,
opened with fanfare but little exertion.
No—more like a log, split and splintering.
A casket whose brass hinges creak
while the shovel hopes for some gold or silver
on the chest or the hands or the jaw
of the corpse to justify all those shovelfuls
of heavy clay and awkward sand
thrown leaping into a slovenly heap.
I would steal from the dead.
I think I should say what I’m capable of
before sallying forth into the valley
flashing the gossamer blueprint of my soul.
But it isn’t the laughter or jewels or recipes
I’ll be ashamed of stealing—it’s that
that’s all I’ll steal. Leaving behind
the jumbled bones of their suffering.
Their blank crania hollowed out
by bright and steady flares of pain.
I watched her die
and what did I take from her?
Her love for two boys that aren’t mine.
The beaten smiles she summoned like dogs.
Conor Bracken has recent poems in The Adroit Journal, At Length, Love's Executive Order, Muzzle Magazine, and The New Yorker, among others. His chapbook, Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour, selected by Diane Seuss as the winner of the 2017 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, was published by Bull City Press in fall 2017. He and his wife live in Houston.