Brian Jackson Poetry


437 EAST 12th STREET

Empty shoes in the third lane
the people crowd in to gaze
a scene from Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.
The tired-faced cop
clipboard in hand with a stub-ended pencil—
a boarding-house lady, a non-entity for the papers
—Rooms to Let on Tenth Street—
another of New York City’s invisible ones
they who have passed over Lethe
and yet live among us.

Mr. Buonjourno on the fourth-floor tenement
whose every wheeze seemed his last
passed on the staircase by Mindy
her shouted greeting, “Buon Journo, Mr. Buonjourno,” always made him smile.
Now a name no one remembers
except for a half-cracked scribbler.

Mr. Buonjourno, lonely in last years
quiet in his apartment
listens to the voices on the radio
for a hidden message, perhaps,
for a clue to the velvet silence when the radio signs off.
No son or daughter comes to visit
no games of chess in Tompkins Square
a stranger at the Italian men’s social club
just an everyday round to the deli, grocer, and butcher
and a frontal assault on the staircase that killed him.

Mindy misses you, Mr. Buonjourno.
Her greetings ring in the halls on the fourth floor
now and in eternity.
And your radio plays in the super’s apartment—
“Yanks lead the Sox in the bottom of the 9th.”


Bright red on pink ground
lips and dress matching
as Renoir has painted her
and Toulouse-Lautrec: same subject—different vision.
The student bends the pages of the many-inched book.

Sunlight through the cracked gilt letters on the front window—
We Were Here Before You Were Born
   Established 1854

Sour smell of the antique tap
Bright sawdust on the floorboards
Sheltering the fat, gray puss, the cast iron stove
Above the counter, a long, cloudy mirror
Thick dust on the wires suspending
and a helmet from the Western Front near Jack Kennedy’s poster.
Yellow wishbones left by Union soldiers.
And Paul Blackburn translated the troubadours here in the corner
while the Wall Street suits gulped their ham and cheese—
As always in my country, the sincere and brutal contending.


Like Monet’s Water Lilies in Japanese green—
the glimmering lamps at dusk
As we walk on the faint paths
fireflies about us and a soft breeze.
A hint of autumn in late August.
On your white dress
red lanterns like floating suns.
Night-dark pines before a blue curtain
The garden koi deep in the grassy pool
and the little bridge has lost its poetry—
its store-bought shape plain in the back-light.

Corn-stubble beyond tree-line where once a maize forest.
My hair streaked silver by time’s passing

And who can say
in another year
what will bloom in this garden?
(Your hair with streaks of silver.)

In this muffled hour
before stars fade with the sunrise
The flat stones
gray altars with lichen
and the wine-stirred murmur of voices
As the dead draw the living among them.


Hum of eternity’s space
Sung in the Home Dance of the Hopi.
On its axis, its center, the universe pivots.
Kachinas, their gyrating circle
   sing three notes of spare melody.
Mystery not sciens
and a kind of rough wisdom.
By the dry paths
past the ancient sticks of wood and adobe
I walk past the walls of the living
dead ruins an outer husk.
Here in the center of the universe
the bare melody is sung.
White faces suffered to witness—
explanation implicit.

By these walls
with the dust of nine centuries
shifted among their red stones.
The eagle lies cold by the morning
feathers held to the four winds
in the dawn light and at sunset.
These rites as Eleusis for Demeter
Mother Africa
and Osiris.

From the Home Gods,
fruit bowls for the living
the two rings of Kachinas and Mudheads with baskets of fruit.

Hum of eternity’s space—
where the universe pivots
where the Home Gods sing three notes of spare melody.


After the rain ends

Wet glints on blades of dark grass
The colored bands bend in a rainbow
Raspberries by the fence taste sweeter
Across the road, the gravestones bright with water

After the rain ends

The anvil cloud drifts toward the eastern horizon
The storm cellars empty of people
Corn knocked flat and rumor of a barn to the east
A slow parade of tractors and pickups

After the rain ends

The sun settles across the blue spaces
Rolling green corn-land with islands of trees
The air clean from the downpour
Now the birds’ slow music

After the rain ends

Tiny frogs in the rain ditch
Hide-and-seek among the garden gnomes
And at twilight
fireflies in Ball jars

After the rain ends

Packed in steamer trunks in Grandmother’s attic
The curled edges of readers and arithmetic primers—

By the one-room school house
A dirt road from last century
The locomotive’s quavering whistle
Girls in long dresses with blossoming sleeves
The brown loam clings to their stockings

After the rain ends


It’s snowing, Guillaume, across the frozen entrenchments.
A sea of mud surrounds the Maxim-gun emplacement.
The femur of a Hun juts from the wall of the escarpment—
some cosmic joker has hung a bandolier and shaving mirror
from this lost and tragic skeleton.

Across the mist, I see the dead dance and waver
Across no-man’s land, their bones bleached by the sun—
white against mud
a chiaroscuro of this abattoir beyond Raphael’s skill
beyond the skill of Leonardo
trading viscera for bones
All the spokes on Leonardo’s wheel-splayed man broken.

Here is winter in August, Guillaume.

That you wrote love poems to Marie, to Louise
and best of all
to your new love Madeleine.

Here is a new love poem, Guillaume.

You who made bomb bursts into sparkling and transient flowers
Who thought of walks on the boulevard of La Chapelle beneath the shells
whistling overhead
Who likened the chalk trenches to the ancient and beautiful walls of antiquity
The Don Juan of a thousand and three comets whose Madeleine made exploding shells
into insolent nipples of heaving earth
Who saw cherry-color horses and machine guns of gold and among the roses
the severed hands of children.

To you, Guillaume, who left us when your head became marked
by the Boche’s shell
and your poetry merged with another reality it could not overtake.
To you, Guillaume, who walked with the stars of your heart across the carpet
of the universe.
The snows of 1918 will last forever.

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