Brian Henry/United States of America, 1972
Brian Henry (1972, USA) is the author of 11 books of poetry, including Astronaut (2000), Quarantine (2006), Brother No One (2013), and Static & Snow (2015). He co-edited the international magazine Verse from 1995 to 2017 and established the Tomaž Šalamun Prize in 2015. His critical writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement, and The Kenyon Review. His translations include Tomaž Šalamun’s Woods and Chalices (2008), Aleš Debeljak’s Smugglers (2015), and Aleš Šteger’s The Book of Things, which won the 2011 Best Translated Book Award. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
The dead keep coming back to us whether we will their return or not:
in our sleep, when we slip to resist, in books, and in song, when the voice
shuffles forward to call “I’m still alive / I win the prize / I’m still alive,”
even though he’s not, even though he knew that his song some day would prove
false, a sometime untrue statement that no one, not even a ghost,
can retract. Instead, those of us left are left to notice, and miss, and hurt.
How thin is the human voice, it cannot keep even the dead distant, on the other side of any thing we would call any thing.
My nation is a pasture horseless in demeanor. Its contours ignite happenstance from harmlessness less distant in manner. Thrush appointed to hold truck with the pasture nourish the pasture. Shares hired to counsel the pasture thresh the pasture. When the shape of the sound stripping the wind builds a wall at the edge of the pasture, it rehearses last rites for this burden drained by distance:
Walllessness should not be considered a harm or a lack, but a willingness to counsel and receive counsel from horses in a horseless nation, where the pasture remains as reminder, reminding the horses of what’s remained and what remains for the horses.
How did you get here? Why did you come? Is the leaf-stripped oak strong enough For the journey you’ve planned? And what about your coat? I see that it’s thin, Worry you might shiver yourself right off And no one would notice since you’re already dead.
Sad then, your loss when it occurred. Sadder now, the return. No ghost should have to suffer again. But we both know there is no place here for shoulds, Only ises and ares and wases and weres. There is no place here for promises, for dreams, Those made of nothing, being nothing but words.
There, where stones populate the underneath, splay rain as it blends and stops being rain, raises the river, water into water, stone into soil, too slick to stand or walk, too wide to freeze or span, to cross you must swim, the current a visible instance of movement: you’d enter the water here and if not pulled under would emerge so far downstream the crossing would require another journey entirely, on foot, over uncertain terrain, over what, through ownership, through deed, is called property, thus encroachment, thus trespass. The mind, though, can cross, along with the eye (where it can see). The body, my dear, counts for so little—nothing, really—here.
Snow is never silent, it pokes as it falls. This common house can feel every flake. Once the snow stops it’s silent. But then it’s not snow, it’s not snowing. As when the rain stops, it’s not raining. The sun etcetera. The fog, the clouds, the bliss etcetera.