Bruce Guenter CC
Never Stay Where Grief Is Free
Our breakfast at the shed—bottles of Bud Light
stand hip to hip along all four walls, empty.
Shame muscles past dirt-streaked glass, a fall
from grace, another truth for me to swallow
with fried egg and toast. Angry, you
ask for more of everything except wonder.
When we were fourteen, we visited World of Wonder,
a fenced lot somewhere in Texas—its spotlight
raked stars, erased constellations and you
yearned for a different summer, one empty
of friends and western diamondbacks that swallow
doves whole. Even now, you sleep where rivers fall
silent, where no other bodies break your fall.
You scrawl a message to me: No wonder
solitude costs less than the Holiday Inn. A swallow
of water from an old army canteen but no light
for a smoke—you dig around, come up empty,
add a postscript: What if I can’t lose you?
Disappear: a transitive verb, fear its object. You
are not the young bodies left among deadfall.
I am not the parents who raise photos like empty
pockets of tears, yet I choke back wonder,
fear what will happen if you abandon your light
to the mourning dove and the swallow.
Grief is a country, its anthem a swallow
of vinegar and fear. Please let me sing you
beyond it borders once more until light
marries water, prison bends truth, hands fall
from hips unread. The night never wonders
what happens when the boulevards empty.
Years litter the shed, generations of empty--
an old Peterson’s field guide marked at swallow,
the metal cot where Lulu birthed me, a wonder
of beer bottles. The creased snapshot of you
at the state fair after the swing-ride’s fall
and spin stole your bravado. Even in this dim light
I see the vomit speckling your chin, the light-
ning urging us to shelter in an empty
car. Rain sings on the metal roof until nightfall
and no one missing us. Freedom swallows
the hours between backseat and home and you
show me the bruise on your thigh. I wonder
which fist inked this pain tattoo. I wonder
who else admires its yellow-blue light
and more than ever, I want to be you.
But dangerous is no better than empty,
not when envy sends its soldiers to swallow
resistance. I barely escape as footfalls
disrupt our river of bodies and tires. Offal
of love, ever dare me to wonder
if solitude costs less than solace. Bank swallows
burrow deep in the quarry wall. Moonlight
stitches my mother’s apron into empty
sacks that shadow the shape of you.
Seeding clouds with doves and thunder, you
scissor both wrists on the first day of fall,
then call me before you run empty.
I rush to the shed, too late to stanch wonder,
floor and mattress stained red. Lost light
leaves nothing for the snake to swallow.
Wind whistles the bluff where swallows
dig nests, a colony of gunshots in sand. You
soul-slip as death pockets your tears, unlight
embroiders your name. Maple leaves free-fall
onto the tin roof, desert their steeples of wonder.
It’s finally come time to empty.
Under the cot, a postcard of an empty
fairground, a field of bruises, a hard swallow
of time. Like the shed, a place of wonder
where layers of dirt bury memories of you.
Rain creases the clouds until nightfall
and cold wind begs to lease starlight.
No small wonder, grief: my body empty
of light, thirsty and calling freedom. I swallow
the song of you, sleep where rivers fall.
Lynne Jensen Lampe has poems in or forthcoming from One, The American Journal of Poetry, Rock & Sling, Small Orange, LIT Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize. Her current project relates to conformity, sanity, and family. She edits academic journals and books in Columbia, Missouri. Find her on Twitter: @LJensenLampe.
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