Letter to America by Traci Brimhall

One Poem

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Shelter In Place

I didn’t know I loved Kansas, with its wind skirling
through the arms of windmills, its fields gravid
with lavender, its subscriptions for sunflowers.

I thought I was pollen complaint and water hunger.
I didn’t know I loved the hopeful ugliness of cygnets,

or that a group of vultures is called a wake, or that
a skull oxbows with a signature unique as a fingerprint.
I thought I loved to verb through the days, but spring

annulled that marriage, giving me to stillness. I didn’t
know I would also love the discourse of chickadees

in the redbud and insects at rest on my books, their legs
testing the strength of n’s and o’s before flitting off.
I didn’t know I would also love the sundial’s secretarial

shadow. I’d forgotten I loved the blue of afternoon—
bold, bare, the white of ecstasy at its edges, the lyric

bending me over its knees. I’d forgotten how to recite
the rosary long distance, but I knew I loved Latin
in the shower. I didn’t know I loved using my breath

to make a page of the mirror and draw vines of vanishing
roses with my ring finger, its vena amoris plumbing

commitment from hand to heart. I didn’t know I loved
wasps when I set the nest on fire. I only meant to protect
my son from his rushed in and out through the door,

but I watched them pull pearled eggs from muddy tunnels,
and I knew. I didn’t know I loved raccoons raiding day-old

cheeseburgers dressed with coleslaw and hot sauce from
plastic trash cans. What ingenious survival, what midnight.
I knew couplets loved dangling from trees. I knew rosemary

loved garnishing gin. I once loved brass bands and free
boat rides, but now I love hammers for hanging pictures

and telescopes for imagining a future with mix tapes of denim
and rhinestone rodeos, my face unmasked, my arm brushing
a stranger’s. Even now I love the stout pulses of magicians

and the salads my son makes from the wild in our yard—
the bitter dandelion greens, chickweed, henbit. I’d forgotten

I’m good at survival, too, that I’ve taught my son the uses
of the earth. Each day we walk one block further, our own
sympathetic magic, a ritual to ask the world to let us return.

I know I will love tomorrow’s moon as it coats its smell
on mint. I’ll love the driptorch bathing last year’s grasses in fire.

I know hope is a discipline but so is the dark heat falling
toward me, a citation of grief, a joy ready to welcome a late
continue, to fly open the door for my son, already running.

 

 

 

Traci BrimhallTraci Brimhall is the author of Saudade (Copper Canyon, 2017), Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010), as well as Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod (forthcoming, Copper Canyon, 2020). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Poetry, The Believer, The New Republic, and Best American Poetry. A 2013 NEA Fellow, she’s currently an associate professor of creative writing at Kansas State University.
 
Read Traci Brimhall’s other Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by Terrain.org and Trinity University Press.

Header photo by Tommy Brison, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Traci Brimhall by Colin MacMillan.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.