“City Limits” by J.Scott Brownlee

J. Scott Brownlee


Once every year, we slaughter
the bulls. We make burnt offerings

to God while clans of poor Tejanos
jump in old Ford trucks, waiting to melt

the pools of asphalt for new roads.
We take our time when we make

love. We are proud soldiers
who have twice toured Iraq:

our loaded guns, our livelihoods
off safety. We are deer hunters

not for sport.  We hunt here for survival.
We have fought wars you would not fight.

Our bullet wounds and PTS are proof
of what we’ve witnessed outside church:

that only suffering can make a body
bleed enough to cleanse it.

We work so hard some days
our backs swell up

on loading docks like Christ’s,
but we keep loading anyway.

A few of us, the lucky ones,
drive fork-lifts. The rest of us

still use our hands: this heaviness,
this waiting for the weight of day

to pass into the arteries of night.
Then we can rest.  Blood

is the weight of sin we carry.
Blood is the color of the sky

over our town.
We make burnt offerings

to God every December.
We still light candles

with their promise of return.
We know Christ’s coming back.

We still say, “Merry Christmas,”
and believe the Bible’s true.

The swimming pool is where we go
to waste our time—there or the Sonic

with its cheese fries, flurries, drinks.
And at DQ you get a dipped cone

for a dollar twenty-five,
although it used to be much cheaper.

By ten most people fall asleep.
The rest shoot pool at Granite-O,

that bar just outside town where
young men swallow any evidence

of prayer.  Each shot glass empty,
empty, full.  And there’s a hoot owl,

somewhere, singing.  The milking does
and dappled fawns lie in the brush

outside our plywood houses, bedding down.
When they rise it’s Saturday, and raining.

The poor kids start to wrestle in the mud,
wake up their parents in the trailer park.

By noon they’re playing soccer
with the red ball

they stole from Dollar General.
And then on Monday after school

our JV football team at practice
in the sun, their helmets gleaming,

insect phalanx. Yellow jacket stingers,
combs of crab grass at their feet:

it must be August once again if,
past that line of bruised-black boys,

beyond the bleachers and the oak trees,
we hear peacocks with their shrill calls

cry a song we will never forget:
that first music of suffering.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010

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