The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue


Penelope voice

Completely obsessed with flowers. I made all these
ovals and lines about my house filling up
with flowers.

Things you say are falling robins from the song.
Heavy, not dispersing like the light on half a stadium of heads.

None of this was the surprise.
Not parts going out of control.
Not the parts that needed my care.
Those turning out to be the same parts,
finding out they didn’t want to be touched
was the surprise.

Alone I picked the glass out of the lawn,
the sharp edges digging for the substratum,
so friends could lie down on the wet grass
tilting beer cans to their lips. Still they never catch up.

My student writes her name on the back of her paper
though she can’t make any letters.
Her faint but constant series of ovals and lines
says Penelope and I can read it. She can read it
though she can’t read.
I will recognize that set of lines and ovals,
the same one she makes every day once she’s gone home
and I’m going through the stacks of watercolors.
This one says Penelope.
If I saw it in a thousand years, I would read Penelope.

I hate when singers can really sing like I hated
when you took my hand in your hand
took me out in the rain
to tell me what you don’t really think.
By that time I had had enough of the half oracular.
When the third thing in the prophecy doesn’t come true
but you’re still on the cursed boat
wondering what to do with the fourth thing.
Its mutated fate-body thrown on the deck
more realistic than you expected.

There was a creek behind my sister’s house I loved
For how stupid it made me feel
not because I believe nature is omniscient,
I don’t, and I don’t go there anymore.
My friends drunk riding 4-wheelers
into power lines don’t really go away.
I rejoiced in the lamb I was asked
was I real or fake,
did I prefer Ashley or Mary-Kate?
Men said I love you but meant
they had done something wrong which I would find out about later,
broke into my house, cracked the Italian figurines
when they swung their long legs over the back of the couch.
I waited on the curb for someone named Brock to pick me up.
I wondered if a sword could blaze.

With the TV on like my mother before me I descend to dreams.
One poem says TV is what the night eats.
Writing is what the dreams eat.
My growing concern was that the instant
was not the unit of experience that interested me.
The woman made of static said I’m scared of everyone.
The woman gathering asters in the ravine
stays there unwilling to go either up the mountain home
or down to face the animals she knows wait for her
while another Van Gogh was stolen from a Dutch museum
the night we had the pink moon to distract us,
no docents orbiting the central fountain.
They went home.

I want to tell you what a sword is.
To want to tell you has been my entire life.
And writing is the same thing as waiting.
And talking is as useful as it sounds.

When you get to Sparta voice

I do not want to be crazy
about the circle whose center is everywhere.
The metallic parts of mind drawn to an image of the spill,
one that goes wine and wine and more wine. A friend is gone
and I wanted to be all blade, too scary to use.

Where the intuitive paths people took before us
rubbed the grass away from the dirt at the top corner of the park,
what’s wrong with you?
You seemed combinedly possessed by every robin that fell.

I am expected to write about the art I’ve been looking at.
Well the story in Wagner was only the summary of a story.

In summer I arrived at the idea of entering sacred time recklessly
as it regarded the way men interpreted the behaviors of my friend Jessa and me.
We walked home from Del Taco saying you snap, then I’ll snap.
She pulled her tampon out behind the dumpster while the Scientology cross burned.
The strongest member of our party had gone overboard.
Of course not everything is about that.

To yellow-haired Helen, I really liked you, I thought you were amazing.
The way you threw away the pretty napkin we got with the takeout.
The little cockroach on the lip of the stove then the lip of the sink
going around the whole room with complete freedom.

I wanted you to be happy like that, where I could see you
and my sight at times had no limit. As a visionary I was a loser.
My spinal cord always filled up with whatever chemicals felt like
the other world had already rejected me.
If you give me the chance, I’ll hold the handful of egret feathers by the gate,
wave long goodbye, smile with teeth like lemon seeds, I don't care, at this point,
I understand exactly half of everything.

In Los Angeles there was fake blood ponding in the ring. There was someone cool
to drink the blood. A dove drunk on mulberries. There was the underworld
of learning which is not beautiful, not the ugly beauty of a model even.
There was instead a path of decimation upon which all you could do was submit.
I cannot share what I privately celebrate. Watching everything come true.
What learning is like.

One-day winning streak

Things fell apart at dinner. Everyone hunting for the lie which I found.
Don’t hate me because I was a child prodigy. I was a new being
wrought from chaos just like everybody else.
I grew up in Beverly Hills the same as you, a blue raspberry filter on the lens.
Now my job making fake paintings for TV is beautiful,
in terms of filmmakers I like who everyone likes,
but you can’t speak to the dead or the very famous.
I built a world that looked like this one, but it bombed.

Having these thoughts while the lake flickers was a waste of scenery.
The pointlessness of gathering information surprised me when I laid every piece of it
on the picnic table made of perforations and rust, weeks of what you said.

I had done nothing for the approach.
Language was a material. My dumbest friend said that.
A song of any sort would’ve been an approach.

I believe in anything you could say about art, knowing the metaphysical world
could not be how I imagine it is why I imagine it.
I’ve never been too drunk to dream, the supernatural angelic battle going on
while I sit on David’s lap while John crushes a Vyvanse
while the last bits he rubs around his teeth dissolve,
saying I love you was my favorite way to pass the time.

I wanted to feel like I was being passed around,
mobile as a fallen angel so then I’d have to be one.
I’m not in the wrong I’m in New York submitting to the feeling
of knots getting untied by time, matches saying strike gently.
My mom’s ex-boyfriend’s ex-wife left voicemails in the middle of the night.
We listened over breakfast in clips of sunlight.
Rainbows in the hose water, halos where it ricocheted off the chicken wire.
The way she said “slut” meant love for the wrong reasons
was no more pitiful than love for the right ones.
Thought of it like literature, from an ornate remove.

I stopped reading horoscopes because they assume we want to get better.
I never panicked about the millennium beyond whatever I got secondhand. Why
anyone would chase anything they could catch is the lie.

Why I fetishize Long Island

I like to see him,
your uncle with the sandwich walk
in and out of frame, the space between the camera
and your teenage hardcore band
made alive by how much he doesn’t care.
Everyone from Long Island
has a YouTube video like this
and an uncle in frame eating something
on Long Island I know
my spirit at a certain level
as non-renewable as many times
as a boy can say you can’t ruin
a relationship, I know
you can ruin anything
so I fetishize Long Island.

My favorite movie is usually
whatever’s on, cherry limeade with vodka
made into a gel for a light. I was as close
to depressed as I ever was.
Got déjà vu writing this poem.
I think Shy said you are supposed to.

In Free Falling she’s a good girl
because she loves her mama,
horses, Jesus, and America but
really she’s good because she loves
and he’s bad. Simplicity is what certain songs
give our bodies in the organization of the world
where songs give things to bodies
which is the one I believe in.
Most count for us, a great relief
that removal of pressure
to do all the ceaseless counting ourselves.

The mode of identifying things
by enumerating the things they are not
is finally out of fashion but that means
it’s on its way back.
There must be a word for that
but it will be uglier than what it means
like the one for people who see patterns in everything
and how going away frustrates
by being our surest route of return,
and the train I was on went to Malverne
for one of those birthday parties
in a backyard with moms and music
that I don’t associate with adults.

Dishonest experience is on its way back in.
The signs on the subway say your dog dreams about you
though it’s wrong to assume a dog dreams about anything
to apply aboutness to the consciousness
of an animal. Why ask anyone else to deal with that?
I used to dream of buildings falling over,
my parents forgetting who I am,
a girl standing beside me calling me father, and I was not a dog.
Not the dog in the skatepark I knew the name of,
Shiba Inu, there busy knowing itself.
And I kept getting older
and the boys on the boards stayed the same age. I decided
When we meet we should say what we care about
and be so clear about what we don’t. And it’s true

the person I’m in love with talks about God a lot
but I too have been out of control.

Loss couplets

our friend was dead and he didn’t feel like talking about old trauma
just the new ones lighting Parliaments off each other’s by the mosquito net

at 4 pm the witching hour of sociopathic fantasy
spine laid out like a necklace on the blonde wood floor

I hold my phone to my ear but no one’s on it
it’s comfortable there and cold I revisit the messages

hold the phone close to my eye
I got danced with at the funeral having lost my agency

my love drives a huge boat into the sound
agreeing with him about everything is a temporary joy, I know that

but for now it’s eternal
the only reason to wake up

and I barely sleep
I slept 2 hours, Charlie says

I’m thinking of him under the house and
of how I never know if I’m telling the truth

his yellowish teeth looking remarkably like the bone they are
telling me I love you but I don’t want to talk about Josh

I said what about Peter
he said Peter is dead that’s why we’re under this house

I said what about Sarah
he said where did she go?

her white thighs held over the bayou
did Charlie remember that? and Peter bouncing on the diving board?

screaming fuck you then running through the browning grass
it was always so hot in the summer

Peter’s brother moves his body like Peter’s
so backlit by fire we kept saying oh my God

grabbed each other by the face
like the times drunk on the pontoon boat shining floodlight into the reeds

your girlfriend is worried about me
she can tell I know everything

and you’ve got blood around your mouth like your sister
this morning it rained in Southern California

I found out from my crush near the perfect blue
of the Scientology center

my mom at the funeral is sixty-one with a sparkly fake tan
even she is bent about a crush and calls me every night

I’m not the one whose responsibility it was
not to abandon Peter is what I keep wanting to tell the woman whose it was

as she pours another drink and begs for more cigarettes
a cat eats a plant it shouldn’t eat, a cat walks out of frame in River of Grass

Charlie came up to me hours before, in line at the church
and said I think divorce and death are similar

well that was nice because we were walking into a funeral mass
and my hand slipped like a child’s into Charlie’s, but no, they aren’t

Four crimes in the West

I guess now is as good a time as any
to write my first cosmology

The first report comes from the station
then everything depends on it

laughter, even the happy kind, when the bugs are out,
is inscribed by a fear of never being able to stop

I can’t do anything with your thoughts when it is 80 degrees and plummeting
I don’t even reject closure

the lantern’s battened down with the other items
and far away a man standing at a Lucite lectern

mentions that you have four more years to live
before you’re older even than Jesus of Nazareth

the subject lines of brands talk to me in a special tone
a person would never use and shouldn’t

and Zoe Kravitz in the Black Opium ad looks so hot
it’s hard to read about a reading desk with a slanted top

as in scripture, or lemon, or sermon, aloud
When Jake wins a contest to see the country singer

I win the smaller contest to go with him since it’s
something called International Women’s Day

but I still got yelled at and not the night I badly wanted it
when everyone was being so awful and nice

I think I’ll just write this one here forever
What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people

reckoning with that toothbrush that comes in the mail every month
the battery every three, I hate that

I’m trying to be more Russian four miles outside Lockjaw, Kentucky, I crave
the deep psychological punishment Russians crave

They can’t stop crossing themselves can they? “My strange addiction”
Which is it? A spinning wheel of light or an energy lock?

Jake said I’m sorry I think our rural gay brothers and sisters
need our help because Alex just found out about Charli XCX

I would have to find out if there’s any secret
in the trashcans and figures in the distance first

then fall asleep on the hard floor at the elder’s feet
almost without undressing

My mom is sitting in hysterics and a booth at Kim Long’s
because she Googled “which x-man farted” plus she’s high

Arrest warrants from a federal database collect in the voice mailbox
I’m only laughing because it’s funny

Silk suit, eighteen-wheeler on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends

Yesterday was like vomiting, I vomited up my jealousy
The Ford with the swan hood ornament was coming from inside the house.

A memoir staple in the takeout.
This is the poem I couldn’t wait to get home to write.

You in that mask, Delilah’s show in syndication
hair whipping on FDR like dreams in Tarkovsky


Courtney Bush

Courtney Bush is a poet, filmmaker, and preschool teacher from Mississippi. She is the author of the chapbook Isn't This Nice? (blush 2019).


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues