Brian Brodeur is the author of Other Latitudes (2008), winner of the University of Akron Press’s 2007 Akron Poetry Prize, and So the Night Cannot Go on without Us (2007), which won the Fall 2006 White Eagle Coffee Store Poetry Chapbook Award.
Recent poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, Many Mountains Moving, Margie, The Missouri Review, Pleiades, Quarterly West, River Styx, and online at Verse Daily.
Brian maintains the blog “How a Poem Happens,” an online anthology of over one-hundred interviews with poets. He lives with his wife in Fairfax, VA.
Florence to Innsbruck, 1998
We scoot to make room, four strangers
lumped together, and trade stories as we watch
evening break against the man-faced Alps:
Harun from Sarajevo asks in English if
we’ve seen Verona yet, describes the bronze
statue of Juliet whose left breast shines green-gold—
polished over time by tourists’ hands.
Claus laments forgetting to pack linens, confesses
to crabs he contracted at Amsterdam’s Flying Pig,
making Maria, the only girl, squirm in her seat.
Maria asks Harun about the war. He says he wasn’t there,
but his uncle Miljenko, starving, was forced
to slaughter the dog, cut the toughest meat
into strips they grilled on sticks and called
bat wing so his cousins would eat.
During the siege on Hamburg, Claus says, his father’s
family stewed tulip bulbs to survive, once traded
a rancid melon rind for a pair of shoes.
I tell the story dad told me about the Private
outside Dac To, how he crossed into Cambodia
to stalk Viet Cong regulars, taking each man
by the throat, whispering into his ear the name
of a dead friend, and sticking the blade just
under the left shoulder until he felt
the heart through the knife’s hilt stop beating. Soon
we’re all playing this game: whose people
suffered more, passing a bottle of peach schnapps
as we pitch through mountain tunnels, exploding
into fog. In the brightening window, a few Alpine firs
smack the flanks of the train. Our reflections
blur against whitecaps that slowly erase our faces,
and we lean on our packs, trying to stay awake,
as if the night could not go on without us.
NEAR THE FOUNTAIN OF TEARS
carve a moment
out of dream stone
for the poet in the Alhambra,
over a fountain where the grieving water
shall say forever:
The crime was in Granada, his Granada.
The rooms, still dark, were flooded
with blue shadows
when Tripaldi bound
the two bullfighters together.
I chained the lame
schoolteacher and the man
with a swollen head—as Alonso called him—
who even thanked me
for letting him step on my knee
to climb onto the flatbed.
We drove along a ravine
to an empty stretch of hillside
studded with olive trees, unloaded
the prisoners there,
and led them down the mud
where the slope
leveled. Unsnapping my canteen,
I offered it to the man,
who drank and spilled on his shoes.
Tripaldi told him he’d seen
a play of his performed in Barcelona.
“The one about all those
unhappy women,” Tripaldi said.
The man grinned and looked at me.
“Most women I know,” he said,
especially Spanish women.”
“My friend,” Tripaldi laughed, “I agree.”
The sun had not yet risen
when the command was given.
The prisoners stood in silence, shoulder
to shoulder, as we cocked our rifles.
The man with a swollen head
fell suddenly, hitting the wet ground
a moment before the schoolteacher’s
body fell on his.
Then the two bullfighters—
all of them lying
together in the muck—and we dragged
their bodies by the shackles,
forming a straight line, and waited for
the diggers to climb
down with their spades. As the sun
rose over the vega,
we smoked and watched the sky come back to life.
When the diggers finished
and we heaved the bodies to the edge, a few
beads of my sweat
dripped onto the man’s face. Tripaldi
asked if I’d ever killed anyone
famous before. “No,” I said,
and rolled them into the hole.
Poetry in this post: © Brian Brodeur
Published with the permission of Brian Brodeur