BY ELIZA BROWNING
We wake in the dark. The night,
wide as a horse’s maw, yawns.
I want to be as silent as the trees
before shaking leaves from their sides.
It snowed for the first time in New York today.
By today I mean this season.
The fog bareback over the fields,
the field fog pressing on my back.
Here the night interrogates the day.
So I make an offering of my hands
and a nest to go inside it, a honey-hive,
where the bees, in their wild herringbone
toward death, never cease their murmuring.
In the gray I see the hospital where Camille died.
The sculptor spent her last thirty years within
in the asylum walls, exiled and alone. No one visited.
Her body was buried somewhere on the grounds,
unmarked, in a communal grave only steps away
from the room where she waited and slept at night.
Wild bees live six weeks in ideal conditions.
Even in swarms they never collide.
I gamboled toward the thick of them,
an acrid scent on my tongue,
the pond and its hook-hands rising over my head.
Camille, do you see the swallow in the thicket
guarding its wings? Or the thrush in the brush pile
beneath the thin veil of snow.
So I make a body out of it, the reeds, bent.
Oh Camille, somewhere there is a field hospital
and the birds overhead crying Absalom. Here,
where the underbrush leans into the ceaseless pasture
the birds still arc, forever in that flocked unmotioning.
BY ELIZA BROWNING
Summer again like a switchblade in my throat.
We were girls then, gamboling in glades thick
and honey-sweet with clover. All of it belonged to us:
the dusky purple scent of the tobacco fields,
the cicadas buzzing in the chest-high grass,
the sleepless meadows only our feet tread.
We rinse the lake water from our hair
and dream long dreams of drowning.
The day Adelma Simmons died all the flies
hung still in the air like raindrops before the falling.
The next August my father went up to Caprilands
for the auction. Estate sale jumble of cookbooks
and broken crockery, rusted farm equipment,
barns standing empty in the neighboring field.
My grandmother’s neighbor tells us Adelma played
at witchcraft, spiced her cooking with herbs, conjured
water from the dry tongues of creek beds, but we banish
the thought, laugh and cast spells of our own devising.
When we were young we liked the in-between places best,
the drainage ditch and the stone foundation snarled
with briars, the orchard dying in midsummer’s grasp.
Out of the ruins of our kingdom we teethed our riches:
our carriage horse the bleached bones of a deer,
crowns of milkweed and monarchs’ wings.
Power lines sparking like proverbial lightning storms.
We caught ladybugs in pill jars and peeled leeches
from our bare legs like snakes loosening their skin.
Tongues: in, out. The crabgrass scabbing over
the wellhouse field, flashlit with the yellow summer.
In the distance, the trains following each other home.
The Last Motherhood of Shirley Jackson
BY ELIZA BROWNING
Finalist for the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry
People disappear. Up Glastenbury
and down the mountainside, through
Somerset township and Bennington.
Paula Jean Welden, 18, vanished on
December 1, 1946. She was last seen
on the Long Trail just before dark.
In this story she is Natalie, fresh-faced
and virginal, feet in the dewy grass.
Another daughter abjected. She makes
a mark in her notebook, smokes
a final cigarette. Last breath of summer
over the hills. In the evening, the children’s
voices carry. First to Powers for red beans,
canned soup, milk, then home with the heavy
groceries. Stanley needs his ink refilled.
She remembers him in the kitchen,
in the early days of their courtship, catching
her in his arms: It’s because we’re Jews.
She does not know what to believe. Instead
she sets her hexes: nettles under the bed
for fertility, books nailed to trees, spells
for his little infidelities: a dropped key,
a hair ribbon, a lipstick stain on a collar.
Carelessness. A year inside with the curtains
closed. And the villagers standing around
like extras before the rain, waiting for the sky
to open. Arms raised as if for a stoning.
It does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story
is what all you young people think about
these days. Why don’t you write something
to cheer people up? Throw the windows open,
one by one. Turn the dirt from the graves.
There are more people dead than living
here on earth. What ghost here, what god,
what girl dancing in an empty room.