Brandon Courtney spent four years in the United States Navy.
His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets 2009,
Linebreak, BOXCAR Poetry Review, and The Los Angeles Review among
many others, and he has recently been nominated for a Pushcart
Prize. He attends the M.F.A. program at Hollins University.

Virga in the Drought Years

Faith is the saddle patterned slate
my grandfather's father stretched
between watershed and tree line,

hiding my mother's infant head
from rain in the drought years;
a bucketful of shingling nails

and a five pound sledge pinched
between his denim waist
and carpenter's belt; cisterns

for mirage runoff beneath
the clapboard's soffit. All summer,
the silver rope of creek narrowed

to a single thread and, in its absence,
revealed clusters of winter bones
pushing through red-clay: teeth

in any dark mouth. I like to imagine,
then, that even simple men knew
their land to be a body: each riverside

a hand, passing tresses of water
from palm to palm until some low
lying branch downstream unravels

the braid. At a certain distance, virga rain
seems to touch even the driest part
of the prairie, but our ancestors knew

the illusion: it wasn't rain falling,
but the smoke from last night's fire,
lifting from ashes.

White Pepper
- for C. Robb


Midnight & my lover not
quite asleep, moonlight sinks
into the bedroom–a flashlight

rocked from a boat's gunwale
into any dark lake–touches
the corners of her pier glass

mirror, brushes the closet
door where she stores her
folded dresses, touched once

by another lover; once by a child.
Our bodies lean against each other,
her sorrel vane of hair fills

my mouth, weaves something
like a nest on the branch of my
tongue. I can feel the blood

that beats its wings in her wrist.
Something this light can only
be snow, falling from the cup
of a leaf.


Spring slips through a tear
in winter's net: smear of night
wasps knock petals from a stalk

of figwort, crimp of gray hairstreak
moths lift from a bruise
of heliotrope, camouflaged.

This is the way death entered
my father: something falling,
something rising from black ice.

In my dreams, your eyes change
colors with the weather: white pepper
to pear green in the stairwell

lingering with the smell of bitter
bergamots after you climb the steps.
We are always entering this room

for the first time. I am always hovering
in the dark, just above your dreams.


In my dreams, the thrum of thunder
is enough to shatter the windows &
let something in.

In the morning, the bottom
of a brown paper bag–softened
with the rot of last week's
Valencia oranges–splits open,

perfumes the kitchen antiseptic. I stay
between the sheets holding
the empty space, silence, something
warming in place of your body.

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