~This poem was previously published in The Los Angeles Review (2010).
From These Split Ends
-for Jessica Keough
After I proposed marriage, we decided
to start cutting each other’s hair.
First time, I was drunk on vodka tonics
and used poultry shears, but she trusted me
enough to score off a few inches.
We did it standing in the apartment’s
old cast iron tub, naked, my hands trembling.
Her curls made it difficult. The blades
didn’t trim right, and I strained to snip each lock.
While inspecting the workmanship,
I dropped the shears, nicked her ankle.
I forget how exactly she reacted, but it was calm—
something of a soft glance down.
As I palmed the clutch of her strands,
worried over the neat horizon of hair,
her manner suggested to me, There is time
to get better. I planted the split ends in the wastebasket
and knew we’d both grow from this.
~This poem was previously published in West Branch (2011).
I think there is hope for us
if we make our home
into an aviary and fill it
with Magnolia warblers,
wake to the rustle of feathers
like book pages in the wind.
I can pull the screen
from our storm door and tack
chicken wire in its place,
while you crack and scatter
shells of sunflower hears,
spread millet and thistle—
we can make it a ritual,
patching and spreading—
and every nightfall we’ll kneel
and replace the newspaper
that cover our hardwood floor.
If we keep larks and flycatchers
in the den, there’s a chance
we’ll cast away any mark
of trouble. Wader nests will line
the staircase like perches
in a flight coop. The thrum
of fresh water from the faucets
will make birdbaths of sink.
When we uncover their routines—
frail starlings and house wrens—
we’ll hold watch in turn,
be the first figures each chick
sees through gummy pupils.
Each Spring swop old scrape
for new, sift through duff
of our yard, harvest fallen limbs
and dropped oak leaves
the size of ball mitts. Once
the undergrowth is carried back
to our bedroom, we’ll curl
and fetter boughs around our bed,
gather in the billow of down.
Our flock will fly south
for the winter, return when weather
gives the first hint of paradise,
but I’ll never parry from you
unless you teach me how. I’ll forgo
the clutch outside of our cage
and sing for nothing else.
Forget the gravity of words, the work
it takes for an egg to hatch.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
On “Marriage”: I had the incredible privilege of having Judy Jordan as a mentor while I attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale for my graduate studies. Besides constantly swearing to her students that good poetry takes dozens of hours of crafting, she also spoke often, and highly, about how important it is for good writers to keep birds and tree guides on their desks. So, of course, when I heard this on the first day of her class I knew that on my way home I was going to run out and pick one of each up. A few weeks later, unable to think about what to write, I started perusing the bird guide and just fell in love with the different names, the sounds and look. Around that time, too, a month before, I had asked my wife to marry me and was very much thinking about what it takes to have a successful, wonderful relationship. The ideas quickly came together and this poem hatched.
ABOUT MARK JAY BREWIN, JR.
Mark Jay Brewin, Jr., won the 2012 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry of the University of Utah Press for his first book manuscript, Scrap Iron. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Antioch Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Hollins Critic, Copper Nickel, Southern Humanities Review, Poet Lore, North American Review, Greensboro Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the MFA program of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. You can find more of his work at: https://markjaybrewinjr.com.