Bill Brown grew up in West Tennessee ten miles from the Mississippi River. He is the author of nine poetry collections and a creative-writing textbook. Formerly the director of the writing program at Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Nashville, he was named a Distinguished Teacher in the Arts in 1995 by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and the 2011 Writer of the Year by the Tennessee Writers Alliance.
On the Tellico River, rocks that shape
the water’s flow grow smooth and undercut
by this myriad force. At night, shadowed
by sycamore and birch, wherever current
brushes stone, shivers a glow. Light
from distant stars and our squat moon shimmers
Bald River Falls, perhaps tricks natural
selection and our mammalian optic nerve
to accept this magic as just an evening
beside a mountain stream the Cherokee
claim as holy.
Memory changes the narrative:
my grandmother teaching me
how to tight-line fish without a cork.
It’s in the feel of the pole, the line tension—
what’s in the water on the other end,
the slight lift of wrist when the jerk comes,
all with early willow green, how it can’t
be separated in the moment—the elements—
stone outcrop, light in trees, the river—
how an old woman made of flesh commands
such resolve—flesh, mostly water, mineral—
light and shadow, brushstrokes in the eyes,
nuance of voice. My father loved rivers
as much as Jesus—the Buffalo, the Duck,
the Caney Fork, the Tennessee, time there,
earthly sacraments of something he knew eternal.
Why so much hoodoo about heaven
when the river and this life demand our praise?
River, how rain pocks your moving surface—
little rings swirl just enough to confuse
the clouds as tall reeds at your bank form
green sleeves. And how polished rocks
beneath the shoals sing for you.
My wife cracks the window, and your
breeze-song enters sleep like camphor,
as if night holds seashells to our ears.
You are blind to what my eyes gather
from your surface, and yet I use
the second person as if you understand
my syllabic babble. But you speak a language
old as stone. I sit on your bank and glimpse
the everlasting, as a moon rises red
through dark limbs, turns yellow, and brightens
eddy and current swirl—a moon you draw
water from, its lunar drift in every pail.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Bill Brown. All rights reserved. “Elemental” was originally published in Raven Chronicles and appears in Brown’s new collection, Elemental. Brown will read from it and sign copies at Parnassus Books in Nashville on November 8, 2014, at 2 p.m.