Afterlife (& other poems)

by Danie Brawand

Heaven: Queers, unicorns,
Marsha P. Johnson, cats,
sex workers.

Hell: Judgement, shame,
dogma, cat litter.

On dull-drum days, I look for rhythm.
The raindrop’s kiss hits the cheek of a man
passing by. He wipes it
as a child does his mother’s lipstick,
except the bashfulness is replaced
by a furrowed brow in a distant place.
He isn’t here with his hand
or the gentle touch of his mother.

I love to watch the riders wait for the train.
Their modern dance configured
with pacing the platform, circling hands
in conversation, bright lights of phones
setting the stage.

I am not a contemporary man. I want
less for individuality and specificity
than I do for romance.
I’m not a romantic, either – less interested
in the light of heaven, more curious
about the shadow’s relationship to it.

If holy were a name I could call
I would press it upon grief.
Would shower it on the ones that choose
to feel it. I would tend to my curling toes
pulling at nothing but a bit of calm
beneath the fear of speaking.

Holy is the untouched forest
and the wrapper gliding down the street.
Holy is “other”
Holy is together
Holy is no.
Holy is I’ll try it this time
Holy is cleverness and doubt
Holy is no heaven,
no hell.


Passing By

Leaves paint edges of streets,
a soft scatter or voluptuous mound.
Branches laid bare don’t shiver at snow,
hold place as anchor to catch sky’s pirouette.

A mother grips the armchair,
hand clutching, she smells the soot
and looks for her son
beneath the flashes of fire
raging beyond the television.

I remove the armor of honor
and display shifts. A sullen face,
a grin, a heaviness in eyes.

We are the practiced chaos most days –
the sweeping flakes and shifting leaves,
the droplets sliding across a rearview mirror,
acrobats of evolution. Pretending we are
measured, imagining stillness
to avoid knowing the leaves will fray
and become fickle as paper
edged with flame.

I do not care to envy the trunk,
to pretend steady as if it were
more civil. I do not imagine myself anchor,
do not wish to claim mountain is better
without wind and fire,
do not pretend decay isn’t rich
as loose soil held
in the pocket of garden.

Worry will tug at our roots.
A longing for elsewhere,
which is to say – a longing
to stay the same.
But I see just as the ocean,
it will certainly sway.


A Name for Sorrow

I tried to give sorrow a name.
Perhaps it’s a different one for each of us.
Some call it Lou…
they grasp at it
in the empty field of numbness
staring out as it holds steady
in dark night sky. Out of reach,
elusive and still, a visible hope.

A friend named it Constantine:
a weighted blanket
curling over her shoulders,
soft and constant,
slow and heavy.

My father calls it Other,
stares it down with tight-shouldered disdain,
unaware he’s looking into a mirror
at furrowed brow and suspicious heart.

My mother calls it Chipper,
tosses it in her mind
until it’s fragmented.
She’s constantly cleaning
to keep sawdust
from reaching her heart.

My brother calls it Devil.
Sees flame and spits ash
when I bring it close.
He scrubs his hands
with holy water compulsion,
they’re too dry to remember touch.

My people call it Nectar,
transfer it to one-another
knowing it’s part of flower’s bloom.

As an adolescent, I called mine Darling,
kept it tucked beneath my heart.
Little finch with a broken wing,
a tenderness to protect.

I am learning to call it Trust.
makes space for more.

The leafless branch,
a dried up shore,
impermanence seen spacious,
less like Window,
more like Door