Brandi George ’s poems have appeared in such journals as The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, Prairie Schooner, and Best New Poets 2010. She is currently a PhD candidate at Florida State University, Editor of The Southeast Review, and Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing.
Sunday Tractor Pull
Mother bites her lip, still
glossed from early morning service,
and shifts gears, while old men
watch the weight inch up
the transfer sled. Her long braid
unravels like sparks of wheat
they’ll part each sunrise, squinting east
and east through fields less wild
than when, as boys, they ran
for miles. Alone, I’m reading
Sweet Valley Twins and wishing
I were blonde, while the world watches
my mother dismount
from a 1938 Allis-Chalmers.
She’s a primal sky gazelle,
a shovelful of black soil
like what sticks to our hands
and knees after pulling thistles.
We snap string beans. We bristle
the earth from our fingernails.
We’re made of Gerald’s boot,
billows from the track, matchbox
Thunderbirds. Old men’s beers
spray diamonds, ball caps tip
in praise. The forest-combed air snaps
a promise into our noses:
Death is a bright green vine.
As the sun honeys fields
around us, we find ourselves
in the silence between
engine pops, spit from a calf’s
conched mouth. The metal bleachers
burn our thighs, so my mother drapes her flannel
beneath me. And eagles weave
golden nests from her wind-born hairs.
I don’t tape my breasts.
Father doesn’t hunch all afternoon
making ammo. He pays his taxes.
When my mother miscarries and almost dies,
he agrees to adopt a son
and names him Joshua. Mother finishes first.
And she’s Queen of Red Flannel Days,
her tractor-shaped trophies
gild the mantle. She doesn’t walk;
she’s carried, and everything
she touches sings. I don’t pluck
the buds off her azaleas. I don’t wander
mint fields alone. In this story,
after the first frost kills the tomatoes,
there are two puffs of breath
in the yard—mine, my sister’s.
Because of the iris’ yellow tongue, the bouquet
my uncle picked from the creeks’
outer bank, his giant leap over water,
I plant each bulb.
Because in a storm trees sound like infants, the arrowheads
I gathered from the forest floor shimmer
and break apart,
I see figures
weaving through the maples.
Alone with P.J. Harvey
cranked so loud it shakes the houses
on Pearl Street, my mother playing cards
at the bar until dawn, the neighbors
staring at their ceilings but allowing it,
I repeat: phalanges, mandible, illium, scapula, scapula,
scrawling note cards for AP Bio.
After moving from an 80-acre farm
to a small house in town, my mother
buys me nice curtains—lace, silk
roses blooming all around them, a stranger
I vow: no boy will ever touch me.
Do we learn phylum, rhombus, haiku because of love
or do we love each thing after knowing it?
I sometimes kiss my books, sometimes sleep with them all around me, under the pillow, beneath the sheets, paperbacks clutched to my chest like the stuffed animals that flew from the back of a pickup, wheeled to bits on the expressway and
my father wakes up
in the mountains without me
or the combine’s drone.
We call our religion The Game, cut up
my mom’s nylons to make our doll-gods’ robes.
My stepfather burns our spells, but the scriptures
remain as squirrel skulls by the creek.
Because my best friend lets me sleep in her bed, steal
the blankets, and eat her Halloween candy,
I put the gun back in my lunchbox; I read
Nietzsche from a Bibles’ leather case, and laugh it off
when at church camp, I’m pushed onto the stage.
We un-baptize ourselves in the creek at 2am. We ditch
our cartoon pajamas.
To impress my grandma, my grandpa turns his hat
backwards and hurdles a four-foot gate.
After her death, her porcelain angels gather a decade of dust, but
he won’t let us touch them.
The Loved are nightly infused with radioactive brightness.
Their parents hover around them
like desperate moths. No one remembers when the Un-Loved left
or to where. Truths learned at cemeteries:
1. If lightning had soft edges, it would resemble the soul.
2. There is a soul.
3. Souls hang out and fall in love, and there’s nothing
we can do to stop them.
I was afraid of the inside-dark but not the outside-dark, and the stars
were particularly talkative. They told me that time is hands
rising to conduct a fugue.
All I’ve ever had, will have, imagined, spoken
into the air, eyelashes blown from fingers, strands of hair
stuck to the shower wall, petals ripped, meditations to expel desire,
a Ken doll’s torn leather jacket—rests on the beloved’s worm-spun head.