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SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

[Four Prose Poems]

by John Brantingham

Poem to the Child Who I Almost Adopted

Today I will tell you the stories that I have kept to myself on purpose. I will tell you of the day I hiked the mountain by myself, and I veered off the path and climbed straight up to the crest. There was a clearing in the trees and wild rose bushes growing up in the sun. The afternoon warmth and smell of pine drowsed me, so I lay down and drifted off, only to wake up to nap amnesia and a world of roses before me. And I will tell you about the time I opened the scar on my leg, climbing a fence in the September Santa Ana heat. I sat down in the weeds of a vacant lot and watched the line of red form and drip and pool, and I smiled to see it, but I don’t know why, and I didn’t know then. I will tell you all the stories that I never meant to tell anyone, the stories that were so precious I kept them hidden. I will tell them to you now because your other father, the man you will always know as father, the man who will give you everything else, cannot give these to you, and I will give them to no one else but you. So I will give you the day when I wandered outside alone at night for the first time in my young life, and I bent my neck back, and I became an astronomer, and I will give you the moment I crushed the bones in my arm in frustration and horror, and I will give you the moment I felt you move inside your mother, and I was sure you would be my son forever.


Thinking About Wilfred Owen

I was thinking about Wilfred Owen today, the poet from World War One who wrote about gas and trenches and the humiliation of fighting in a battle and who died a week before Armistice Day. There was a time in my life when I read everything he wrote and decided to write my Ph.D. dissertation about him before I decided to write about someone else and then someone else and then I dropped out of the Ph.D. I was thinking about him and that time I spent loving his clean description and the beauty of his humanity. I thought of him because a friend was telling me about unmanned drones, the drones that fly raids over Iraq and Afghanistan by people on bases who have remote control of them and how if the person with the controls loses contact with the drone, it is programmed to come back to base. It doesn’t self-destruct or crash into the ground. It simply turns around and flies itself over the Mediterranean or old Carthage or wherever it is and through the gentle skies above the Atlantic and lands itself on the runway where it waits patiently for someone to take care of it.

And I suppose I might have made some kind of maudlin declaration about how Owen would have reacted to the drone and the way it works without the need for human interaction, but somehow, I stopped thinking of Wilfred Owen. And I didn’t think of the pilot who had lost track of the plane, sighed and shook his head, and went out to the commissary for a cup of coffee and the daily candy bar that he thought of as his own secret treat.

Instead, I thought of the man who must wait on the runway for orders and who had been ordered to take care of the drone when it came back. I thought of him taking the drone into some kind of hanger, and I thought of the care he took of it as he washed it down, the way he used to wash that first car he bought when he was seventeen, and he had his first real job. I thought of him lost in a dream of how wonderful it was to own that car and how he smiled a little while polishing it, and how we all do that when we’re doing little chores. I do that when I’m cleaning up my office and putting away my books, and I think about that Ph.D. I realized I didn’t want, and you can bet the man who lost track of the drone dreams as he eats his candy bar. He comes back to that candy bar every day because his mother gave him one when he did something good, and she’s gone now, but he still has their ritual. I wonder if Wilfred Owen did something like that on his last day, polishing a rifle and thinking about the little Shropshire house where his girl lived. Maybe she had looked at him shyly while her father called to her. Maybe she moved her fingers in a little wave that only Wilfred could see.


Apology to Madeline

I’m sorry for that night, so sorry about your dress and your necklace, sorry when I think about that mad hour when you wanted to try out our fresh new bodies and I was young and shaky, but I guess not too young, and we had the baseball field, and I’m sorry about afterwards when we sat in the damp grass, and you wept at me, and I said I didn’t understand, but I did— I knew that this was the end of everything, and all we had been to ourselves, and I was sorry.


A Man Stepping into a River

A man stepping into a river watches the ripple of his foot dissipate away into the waters, and he thinks about all those poems and songs that talk about impermanence, and he is tempted for a moment to become maudlin and existential about the way time washes away everything, but the truth is that his foot did make an impression, his print was there, and just for a second, even running water was perfectly etched in his image and showed that he existed, that he was there, that he had done something.


—All four of these poems are from The Green of Sunset, forthcoming from Moontide Press, and are reprinted here by author’s permission.


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

John Brantingham

is the author of books such as Mann of War (Oak Tree Press), The Gift of Form, and Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods (Wormwood Chapbooks, October 2012). He writes a semi-regular blog at:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury