Tag Archives: poetry

The Mirror of the Late War

My brother Don Brandis is a fine poet. Here is one of his that was recently published on Clementine Unbound. I find it to be a meditation on the consequences of being unconscious in our own actions, individually and as nations. It resolves into a wonderfully spooky images of nature as a mirror of our intoxication with our own unawareness and its outcomes.

The Mirror of the Late War

We were so, so, so . . .
ordinary, our every enterprise
would soon miscarry
not that failure was intended
but our intent was only clear
when it was flagrantly upended,
even to us. No, especially
we’d sort the wreckage
and believe it necessary.
When the moon was full
the fields were silver with its sheen
as if they were not ground but sea
inhabited by churning shoals of fish
drawn out like moths in moon-madness
mocking us for sane and sober sloths
who were by seeming accident both.

Don Brandis is a retired healthcare worker living a happily married hermit’s life in a small town not far enough from Seattle, reading and writing poems, tending fruit trees, and meditating. He writes because good poems are invitations to engage intrinsic values in a culture that only values tools. He has published some poems with Melancholy Hyperbole, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Poetry Quarterly, The Hamilton Stone Review, and elsewhere.

That Ain’t It

My uncle Tom was a family doctor in Rockingham, North Carolina.
Bald, with wire framed glasses and a wry smile, he had a joke
for every occasion and the driest sense of humor I have ever known.
Once my mother went to visit her brother Tom soon after
he returned from the war. She waved and waved and called to him
from the bus window as they pulled in. “Hi Tom!” she cried.
“I never forget a face,” he replied.

Uncle Tom used to tell a story about being invited to go
on a racoon hunt with some of his patients. He worked long hours,
but raccoon hunting is mostly done at night. It doesn’t interfere
with your day job. On my uncle’s first hunt the hounds had treed
a raccoon and were baying to beat all, but nobody went after them.
Everybody just stood around the campfire laughing and telling stories
and listening to the dogs—the males calling out in a low, throaty bugle
and the females a note higher, the sound rolling through the pine trees
and out across the river. My uncle was confused and a little impatient
with it all—he was a get it done kind of guy and it was well after midnight.
“Shouldn’t we go after them?” he said. His friends just laughed.
“That ain’t coon hunting,” they said.

Brothel

‘Violent touch and violence in rooms’ — John Berryman

The abandoned brothel above the architect’s office
in Portland’s Old Town where I had my first real summer job
in 1972 had a long hallway with narrow rooms. Each one
had a light switch outside and a red light over the door inside
Most of the walls were gone only framing and a half inch of
dust like grey lint and pigeon shit everywhere and I could see the
old police chief or councilman with a taste for the rougher sort of thing
slamming up the backstairs making the girls stomachs tighten
waiting to see who he would pick and the madam handing out
a few extra dollars for the night because it usually meant at least
a black eye or worse

The summer I worked there our charismatic young mayor
was secretly molesting the fourteen year old daughter
of a campaign worker and having his chauffeur and his fixer
cover his tracks for decades as he went on to the governor’s office
and then a federal appointment with his party making big plans for him

Now we have a US president who brags openly about molesting women
and uses a mafia-trained fixer to clean up his messes and says he
would date his daughter if she weren’t related to him and I now
know that most often violence happens in closed rooms
instead of streets or on battlefields where you can see it coming
or get out of the way or shoot back and yet a majority of white
women voted for this president even knowing all this about him

I’m back in Old Town and there is a clothing store and a
software company in that building now and life goes on
like it always has except maybe something is changing because my
daughter in college and her friends were harassed at work for weeks
and refused to put up with it and spoke up about it and now that guy
doesn’t work there anymore and that never would have happened
in Old Town in the good old days

Intaglio

You left side reminded me of Jesus where the centurion speared him
And skin sores like a field of feral poppies
I am as lonely as treated water. Letting go or hanging on
Two sides of the same stupid park statue

The hospital road colonized by lumpy strained soup buildings
Hallway smell of disinfectant like your smarmy doctor I couldn’t stand
The baying from husks of old men; you insisted on dying there
I think we were all a bit relieved though I am ashamed to say it

Like skiing off a cliff edge leaving tracks
on the window skin colliding with the bed and the sound
of water running in the linoleum tile bathroom
Pillows with old car badges pinned on them

A bedpan propped against a footboard
Curtain strained light around the head and hands
The moon sliding between your Navajo black pottery
like a hubcap rolling off a car and down the embankment

Boxing Coach

Drop your hips when you punch
and when you block. In close
don’t forget the upper cut

Be quick as a heart attack
but don’t show all at once
Like a deadman’s hill on a back road
you don’t see until you are right up on it

I bet Jesus had an uppercut
Way he threw them money changers out the temple
You need something to back that up
Remember, drop your hips

Writing Letters

After five years of working with Amnesty International writing
letters to foreign leaders asking for the release of political prisoners,
I finally got a response. It is from a general in Uruguay.
Reading the letter, I can see the general in his wood paneled office suite
In the old section of Montevideo. The balcony opens to the Isla de Flores.
His crisp dress shirt is open at the collar. It is the season of llamadas,
and the riotous sound of a neighborhood Candombe band drifts up through the open balcony doors.
He sits at his desk in front of a pile of papers. At his elbow,
A whisky decanter of Laphroaig scotch rests on a silver tray.
He is feeling generous, the music has made him so.
He picks a letter at random from the pile and decides to answer it.
He is not a bad man. Why do so many strangers around the world think otherwise?

It is dark in his office, but the balcony is sunny. He walks to the railing and looks down.
A street vendor is selling melons. She is striking in her flower print dress
As she carefully arranges her wares for the morning. She reminds him
Of his daughter, Francesca, away at college in Boston. She wants to be a journalist!
What puts such ideas in a young woman’s head? Does she listen to the lies
In the streets about the mistreatment of Tupamaros dissidents?
And what is a lie anyway except a truth that is stillborn and must be buried
To make way for the future. The woman in the street looks up at him and looks away.
He walks back to his desk, puts down his drink and picks up my letter.
Dear Mr. Brandis, he writes. Thank you for your concern about senor Mujica.
We are proud of our people. We treat everyone fairly.

Seed Pod

The troops are sweating
the people for cover

Elisions, drought, moving vehicles
are all places to shoot from

Inside the souk you can still find
seeds and good company

draped in the  scent of evening
under a widow’s garden of fossil light

Bargaining with god is what makes you sick
In the orchestra pit, everyone’s head tilting to the side

like cormorants, listening for what comes next
A beggar’s sign by the roadside: make me leave you alone