~This poem was previously published in Hawai’i Review (2012).
Every year the same grey resides here,
bleeds out of headstones
and coats the dusk like dust.
The tenant’s pickup has never looked brighter.
It’s your deathday again,
the anniversary of your passing,
your expiration date,
and again I’m squatting here,
a month late, eye-to-eye
with your granite epitaph.
For the fifth time in five years
I paint the portrait of your
’97 Chevy Lumina nestled
in a tree: tires slowing,
body, smoke, and glass
settling in the grass.
I display this great disasterpiece
in the cedar frame of imagination
I often confuse with memory
and hold it there a while,
admire it like a music box
until I notice the burning
in my bent knees
or the acupuncture of wind
pricking through the sweater I’ve worn
too thin for November.
~This poem was previously published in Slipstream (2012).
Clarity in the Crash
From that full second before flight met stillness,
before the head filled with quarters and lungs stretched
with dirt and blood, before bone tips pirouetted
through skin and the windshield dissolved
into splinters, littering the night with synthetic stars
as the car completed its first rotation,
I learned everything I need to know about physics.
I learned about a body in motion,
the way it will remain in motion until acted upon
by the gravity of living, about what happens
when an unstoppable force meets
a sixty-year-old oak tree,
that only matter is immune
to being created or destroyed.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Deathday” I wrote to take a bit of a lighter, self-deprecating, narrative approach to the death of a close friend in high school. I realized that as important as this yearly ritual (which seemed to have no “official” name) should have been, I was always weeks late and could never remember just where it was. I thought there was something telling in that sad truth. I also realized that I had a tendency to replay the mortal incident in my head, even though I wasn’t there to see it. So I invented a scene based on the second-hand accounts and the cleaned-up wreckage I saw in the aftermath and would use that to promote a sort of artificial pathos I felt robbed of by not being there at the time of death. Macabre stuff.
“Clarity in the Crash” is the first part of a two-poem series as my way of approaching death in a strictly, almost absurdly logical mathematical sense that has no business being applied to something as complex and subjective as death.
It starts with an extension of the same invented scene discussed in “Deathday.” It’s brutal and explicit, meant to illicit a strong emotional/visual connection to juxtapose the second stanza’s logical/physics jargon sharply. Stanza two is based on laws of physics, namely Newton’s First Law (a body in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an external force) and the Law of Conservation of Mass (mass can’t be created or destroyed, only rearranged). I meant to say through this study that even in the height of analytical, logical thought, there really is no sense; the application here seemingly defies physics.
Structurally, I felt a rough sonnet was apt to allow me that jarring “turn” in the middle; you can’t have a 14-line poem without allowance for the possibility of it being a sonnet. The two sections are almost balanced, but I wanted that first line of stanza two to serve as a sort of immediate volta to the second stanza.
ABOUT BRYCE EMLEY
Bryce has edited numerous journals, including The Florida Review, H_NGM_N, and 12:51. His writing can be found in NANO Fiction, The Pinch, Hawai’i Review, Yemassee, Orange Quarterly Review, Pleiades, and other journals and anthologies.