Backyard Reckoning

Poem by J. Scott Brownlee

Hear J. Scott Brownlee read more of his poetry at the CATCH & RELEASE LAUNCH PARTY on Tuesday 12/10/13 at 8pm, Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Dodge Hall 501.

Backyard Reckoning

I see him as more of a shadow
& less as a feathered creature—
this gray, gristled blue jay. The well-
house’s door creaks, crushing black
widows’ egg sacks & garter snakes’
skins the brown of fading hair
like my own—thin, unbleached—
aged now as completely as the oak
furniture in the house next to mine
abandoned with green trim the texture
of flesh sweating out too long today
in the late July heat. I heard him snap
open a pecan just before the singing.
Bedeviled self severed from me, as near
at hand as the yellow SLOW sign,
I’ve lost your melody in the weeds
behind Waylon’s house, Daniel’s clothes-
line, Sarah Beth’s A/C unit that leaked
antifreeze mistaken for candy, the dog
path linking all our houses together
no matter how we each changed
& forgot in our changing the spell
cast by all that nothing. What felt
divisible, matter-of-fact, seems
so solidly necessary to me now.
Where can I rest the brief weight
of my life except deep in this green,
gridded mesh of clover & choke-weed
we all loved to roll in? Returning
may be elegy: a litany place assembles
in us. Whether or not that much is true,
I feel a warm necessity rise in me
similar to each rotting peach pit
in this ripe grove my father, aging,
abandoned when I repossess it—
my own first listening to a call
comprehensible in youth only.
Yours, yours, blue jay: the one
I believed in the way I believe in—
despite protestations, occasional lapses,
the weight of your body pressed
into my palm now—nothing.

J. Scott Brownlee is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, where he teaches poetry to undergraduates and fifth graders through the Teachers & Writers Collaborative.  His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, RATTLE, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, Ninth Letter, BOXCAR Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Devil’s Lake, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and elsewhere.  A Pushcart nominated poet-of-place, Brownlee writes primarily about the people and landscape of rural Texas and is a founding member of The Localists, a new literary movement that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working-class, both in the United States and abroad.  His book-length work, Disappearing Town, was named a finalist for the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, and his chapbook, Highway or Belief, won the 2013 Button Poetry Prize.  He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels,

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