Jennifer Brown (she/her) lives with her partner and a funny-looking dog in Montpelier, VT, having recently left the too-hot south behind for good. She has taught creative writing and literature in high schools, colleges, summer programs, and festivals and has held residencies at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Orison Anthology, Cimarron Review, Zone 3, Twyckenham Notes, and Cinncinnati Review. Her first poetry collection, Natural Violence, is forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press in 2021 or 2022.
Badlands & Canyon
From old Route 66 in Arizona,
neon diners release us to this:
Triassic floodplain, desert basin. Rock
trees litter these bitten dunes; under them
sleep stone dragons. Roped-off rooms of a pueblo
in ruins are backdrops for family
photos—Smile! Once, we read, a swollen river
tore trees from roots, washed them north to strange land,
scoured ripe earth clean & painted it iron
& manganese, reds, yellows, indigos,
black, carbon-gray. On vertical faces,
glyphs of a language we cannot decode—
still, we argue over meanings as if
rightness won loyalty, as if knowing
were a trophy. Archaeology loves
its trowels & calipers, its screens,
augurs, & scales. Spruce & palm, an agate
forest lies cracked to the sun like fruit,
Aladdin’s jewel-garden at my feet.
If I fill my hands & pockets, am I
a thief or lover? At an overlook,
my brother beside me, my mother
& father, so small—I can almost reach
them, each alone in a desert, descending
between canyon walls, finding river’s green,
its chanted story dreamlike & rife.
This is birth—each of us into silence
that locks the canyon to a sky distant,
flecked with hawks. We climb bald, shifting dunes,
shadows like ciphers spelling ourselves
to ourselves in the ruins before us.
At the child’s birthday party, her father, the magician, grins,
“watch my fingers carefully,” makes the coin appear to
disappear from them, then retrieves it solid & flashing.
It was there already, unseen, not behind an ear, no,
but in his empty hand. There, but not where she looked, not when.
He made her see what he wished her to. Easy to convince
the eyes. How long she looks at the drawing without seeing
its hidden objects. How intently at people she knows
without detecting sleight of hand. When she grew up, like her
parents, & left them for distant cities, she looked back
sometimes at the home that shone like a new coin appearing
in an empty hand. Looking, surely, right at it, she’d reach out—
abracadabra—but her hand kept returning empty.