The Middle Distance

Love's last urgency is earth, Christian Wiman believes.
Sick with cancer, devout despite suffering it, he says this

to Bill Moyers on TV—a piece focused on faith, mortality,
and what poetry is. Texas, too, gets brought up as a "spiritual place."

But I need landscape more than metaphysics. Give me a pasture
to clear before talk of spirit. I cut mesquite limbs, make a cross,

and nail God up to it while I watch the program. There you go, Lord,
I say to myself quietly. There you are . . . all nailed up. There you hang

beckoning like a blurry mirage in the middle distance. I'm unsure
of the words the TV feeds to me. Language bleeds together

like the highway does here: each phrase asphalt, burning.
And the road . . . and the road stays so straight till it bends

at the end. Poetry is the turn I can't see—words that curve—
constant swerving, a change in belief. Wiman claims

wide Texas sky looks like a bowl. And it does. I agree:
the void like you poured out every day at sunset—

or like Wiman, his life: its baptismal briefness.
I think you understand oblivion much more than me,

so I'll be quiet, Lord. I have a road to walk
and hundreds of miles ahead. But I know you,

you say. But I find you, despite the long curving of it.
And we do have all night, you croon through the quiet.

And the wind . . . and the wind that is poetry moves through me,
not proving you but the sound of you: all at once . . . after all that.

Now I believe, as Wiman does—though it's "God's love" to him
and "God's absence" to me—I can be changed by it,

even when it's missing. This explains why, sometimes,
I still dream of a cross—the true Christ nailed to it

or the false, human one left to bleed forgiveness.
There is a sadness in their eyes (both of them)

either way: God or not, regardless. I imagine them
meeting somewhere: a road after Emmaus, maybe—

one that's just as crooked as the pasture ruts here
in this county of loss where lament is gift,

and joy rarely raptures. If they come back, they do
as two flowers: quickly. I believe, still, that much.

J. Scott Brownlee is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden's Ferry Review, RATTLE, Ninth Letter, Tar River Poetry, Front Porch, Pebble Lake Review, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. A poet-of-place, Brownlee writes primarily about the people and landscape of rural Texas. His current book-length work, County Lines, was named a Semifinalist for the 2012 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit him online at www.jscottbrownlee.com (jscottbrownlee@gmail.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761