» Poetry

Sister/Brother Poems

My Sister Sings Reba at Forty-Three

for Shawna

 

To worship the earth, we barefoot down

to the water because we have never been

clean, and for this dirty mercy, my sister

 

kneels in her wet suit to the smell of surf

wax at 7 AM, kneels to the car key stashed

in the wheel well and the first open eye

 

full of ocean, and yes, Lord, no way around it,

my sister, today, will accept a broken nose full

of the granite reef handed down to her

 

by the gods of the southwest swell. By blood,

by green, by mud, by tide, my sister will be

held under by the world, but because she swans

 

back to the surface punched out of breath

but having survived, my sister kneels

to pray in the key of steel guitar and sunshine

 

to the ripped-down posters of old rodeos,

to the wet way of hay on a boot heel, to the tush-

push and the electric slide and the wide

 

mouthful of wild she finds while surfing

the hot highway home in the back of a golden

Ford F-150. My sister survives, and you could call

 

my sister the breeze these many July mornings,

but my sister does not soar like a sky on nights

when beneath the weight of the pistol

 

in her waist she serves with a police badge of shine

across San Francisco, for my sister must know

how a kid’s face caves in on the Fourth of July

 

after a firework has flown half-way through it,

and my sister must kneel to find a dead father

in the street on the double-yellow line,

 

to find a runaway daughter, to survive

a man standing in a creek at midnight, firing

a rifle at God. My sister knows the trauma

 

as water, the song as rugged, the body as sinking,

so, Lord, thank you for saving my sister who sings

with what it means to be the bull and the rider

 

and the war paint melting down the face of a rodeo

clown, what it means to chase a smile around

a filthy ring, yes, Lord, to chase the next wave,

 

or the next dance of tight asses in Wrangler pants,

or a next of kin, or the last long finishing note

of the evening before loading up the truck

 

with loneliness and heading home because, finally,

Lord, in the filthy bar, here we are, and, finally,

Lord, here before us rises my sister like an ocean

 

beside the microphone while muddy lights crumble

down dirty upon the black cowboy hats of the country

band, and by brown bottles of California mud, here, the filthy

 

chords are about to start, and my sister saunters up

in the armor of a leather jacket, of purple lipstick, of steel teeth,

of burgundy boots, and you who are listening should hold

 

your breath because my sister’s got a tattoo

of a bull on the wave of her back, and she’s going

to buck you off, and she’s going to elbow you down

 

deep because my sister knows how long to hold you under,

and how to save you, and how to kill you, and how to tell you

someone you love is dead, someone you love is still alive.

 

 

My Heart Is a Time Machine

 

Another brother’s funeral has ended,

and I must take my body back

to May of 1999

to stop the sunshine,

must begin again in our hotel room

with the girl

too drunk on Wild Turkey

to stand, the girl

hoisting a full keg

of Keystone Light

up onto her shoulder,

the girl grenading the keg

through the coffee table,

the girl leaping up onto the bed,

the girl taking three fan blades

to the face

that send her somersaulting all the way

through our hotel window

and onto the sidewalk outside.

I’ll forgive you for laughing

as my friend, Devon,

and I

and the whole room are now

because my friend, Devon, and I

are twenty-five

and high

on the same pills

which will in seven months

in a different hotel room

in a different town

whisper him into a permanent sleep.

Now that we are here,

I promise to tell you the truth—

on this night

in May of 1999,

you cannot tell anyone in this room

in these bands

with these ukuleles in their arms

and these floating festival feelings they have

put into their mouths

to stop. You can never tell anyone

to stop

anything, friends, so you must forgive us,

forgive them, forgive the drunk girl

who stumbles back into the room

and waterfalls down

another slug of Wild Turkey,

the drunk girl who only wants the drummer

to love her, and you must forgive

the drummer who never will,

forgive Devon and me

so deep into a conversation about Roger Waters

we don’t notice the anger

the drunk girl gathers in her elbow

which becomes the shining purple mountain

over the drummer’s eye,

forgive us for not noticing

when their story ghosts like a landscape painting

silently into the background

of darkness

inching toward light.

Forgive us for not laughing anymore

because is this hello or goodbye,

because it is almost morning, and I’m still

uncertain, because what do Devon and I look like,

now, leaving the broken window behind?

Dawn seems to have eased out of us

something as tender

as a full head of long hair,

and I believe we are whispering

about the opening guitar solo

of the Wish You Were Here album, now,

or the album is playing

somewhere, now, and we are

sneaking so quietly

through the courtyard, Devon

and I, as the soundmen

breaking down the festival stage

wind up their cables

like kind fathers

tying their daughters’ shoes,

as the drunk girl snores

on the drummer’s lap in a pool chair,

and Devon walks in front of me

with the almost finished bottle

of Wild Turkey in one hand

we are passing between us.

There is a joint for the both of us I am licking,

and when we round the corner and stare straight

into the Pink Floyd sunrise,

forgive me, friends,

there is always an instant

every time I am telling this story

when I get here

that I want to be the one disappeared

by light who never was

because no one wants to be what’s left over,

and what’s left of this morning?

Hello or goodbye?

I seem to be saying both,

we are almost finished, and forgive me

again for going back so often, my friends,

but I need you to squeeze inside

my blood and help me remember this

final sunrise in which Devon

is taking off his shirt

and letting down the blonde rainforest

of his hair and dancing

to the music that is only in his head,

and one-by-one the waking people

are coming into the field to join him,

a flock of musician women and men

dancing barefoot circles in the dirt

to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

playing only in my friend’s head,

and my friend Devon is spinning around

silently in the center of all of us,

playing the bottle of Wild Turkey

like a saxophone,

like a last photograph,

like a parting metaphor,

like a sentimental machine

which is in very few moments

of monumental pressure

strong enough

to stop time.

 

 

Please also see our review of Sommers’ first book, The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire.

.

Ephraim Scott Sommers

www.ephraimscottsommers.com

Ephraim Scott Sommers is a poet and singer-songwriter from Atascadero, California. Most recently, his first book of poems, The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire, was awarded the 2016 Patricia Bibby First Book Award and was published by Tebot Bach Press in February of 2017. He received his PhD from Western Michigan University and his MFA from San Diego State University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Recent poems, essays, and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. For music and poems, please visit his website (above).