Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“When the Dust Settles”

Bill Brown grew up in West Tennessee ten miles from the Mississippi River. He is the author of eight poetry collections and a 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. His latest book is The News Inside. “When the Dust Settles” is from his 2008 collection, Late Winter.

When the Dust Settles

When the dust settles, I’ll change my life.
Enough of pawning myself off as some word guru.
I want to greet people at Wal-Mart, drive a forklift,
work at a toll booth, or tend bar in some neighborhood
joint where washed-up musicians drink morning beers
and talk about their one big chance. The Nam vet,
who’s looked pissed since ‘69, sits in the corner
where he closes his eyes without dreaming,
listens to the Supremes, and remembers high school
before his life shut, and the Veterans’ psychologist
said shell shock instead of delayed stress syndrome,
and pot was cheaper than Prozac.

When the dust settles, I’ll own up to things.
My best friend in basic training died in Vietnam,
and I won’t search for his name on the black wall.
Though it wasn’t my fault, if I stop feeling guilt,
I might forget the love poem Chris wrote to his girl
at Michigan State before being shipped out.
That night some leathernecks roughed me up
when I got drunk and played Bridge Over Troubled
Water ten times on the juke box at the bowling alley.

When an orange glow in winter hardwoods signals
morning, and subway commuters seem as lonely
as people in a Hopper painting, I’ll walk to the Lincoln
Memorial just to admire the delicate work of those
giant fingers, pass the sculpted metal warriors
with courage-stained faces and M-16s. At the wall
I’ll look up Christopher W. Christian, who was
so in love in 1968; then review the letters,
cuff links, shaving mugs, and flags left
by grief, loss, love and loneliness. Maybe
I’ll cut my lips against the carved black marble
of his name, and whisper something safe and funny
and sacred, I don’t know, when the dust settles.

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