Posted by: cousinbrandon | November 4, 2011

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

Um, hey! Remember me?

Yeah, I know. It’s been a while. Kind’ve been tied up doing other “important” things (like this and this). Okay, so maybe “important” is a poor word choice.

In all fairness, though, I started a new full-time job in August and returned to teaching in September. My old job allowed me to waste my time on the Internet all day, thus giving me the opportunity to write blogs like this one. (I suppose “allowed me” is not quite the right choice of words, though, considering my Internet usage is the very reason I’m no longer with my old company.)

One of the best things to happen during the last few months is that I’ve somehow returned to writing. Not grant writing, not spewing bullshit, not the usual hate. No, I’ve actually returned to poetry. The need — the desire — to write has come back to me, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Sometimes a writer has to live like a farmer, in that the farmer plants seeds but doesn’t always know if and when his crop will come up. It’s like that with writing, at least for me, in that I don’t always know when the poems will speak to me, and I sure as hell don’t know what they’ll say. All I can do is hope for a good crop.

If I had to point to people in particular who have prompted my return to writing, it’s easy: Bruce Weigl and Brian Turner. I’ve written about Bruce previously, and he continues to be my mentor as far as poets go. It’s weird, really, but I know I can always go back to his work and rediscover not only his voice, but my own. (Incidentally, Weigl is reading in Pittsburgh this coming February, and we actually have plans to meet up and, with any luck, bullshit over beers. So, yeah, to say I’m giddy to meet one of my heroes is an understatement.) Brian Turner, like Bruce, is a poet who emerged from the war, only from a different generation. Turner spent a year in Iraq, which birthed his first published collection, Here, Bullet. It’s an amazing, heartbreaking collection that gives a very different and much-needed perspective on the Iraqi people. His latest book, Phantom Noise, is a continuation on the theme, but contains more work from here, after his time in Iraq. I can’t urge you enough to check out their 2008 co-reading as recipients of awards from the Lannan Foundation.

With that, I’m intending to post some poems in the “Versus” series over the next few weeks or so, beginning with “Not Breathing.” I actually wrote this one back in August, and outside of my girlfriend it hasn’t been read by anyone. I’m sure it could use some work, as all of these new poems could. All the same, thanks for reading.

Not Breathing

Anymore, I cry
for no reason, do
that quick succession
of breathing
where I am, in fact,
not breathing. Suffocating,
maybe. Choking, perhaps,
on a wishbone
of connective tissue –
Panic and Terror joined
at the ligament, limiting
my exhaust to a staccato.

These moments to myself
are the usual ghosts
hovering, not as transparencies,
but as dense, white sheets
ready to snuff out
whatever capsule of breath
might still beat inside me.
In these moments
I am dying a little bit
each time I’m left
with even a second
of silence, left to wonder,
to wander, to not understand.
And here, now, that’s all there is:
the not understanding,
which, I have to hope,
is part of understanding.


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