Poetry by Tess Brown-Lavoie

"Untitled" by Janie Stamm / janiestamm.com




Ink river opaque. Slosh within the reverb of syncopated
vehicle fugue, under whose bridge human bodies are
rendered antlike in every act. Wind swabs the outer
perimeter of the island, and each contributor light
simplifies blue, yellow, pink. Alienating landscaping
hardens me to the actual grass rolled out beneath underlit
benches. Past the corner with the loudest music is the
working side, where effie and I find one shadow to urinate
in. What kind of working.

Recognize where it starts, ink river, it drifts in deeper from
skin— dry under shirt. The parking spot is tailor-made
according to a stranger who watched people try for it all
night. On rotation to align the parallel. My mother's is a
different question of worthiness. How the echo sounds now.
Note the bag carrier carries the bag— tonight or ever—
each labor and its ephemeral identity cascades within the
same vein: worthy body, mass, muscle, money, where it
came from, motion, even sex.

Only later do we agree— post clam hours, through which I
make her press— All things pass, while loud notes slice the
air penetratingly and sometimes visible as lightning
inducing a clap.

Danger, equal part pleasure, melting point dynamic. Is that
what this is? Writing headlines from the insular safety of an
office, boxed. Each fact of this world is a trojan horse:
penetrating. When the gate opens, does it not always lead to

In heat or cold, in presence of wood, remembering the day
old ice cube in wooden box. Organic insulator. Laws
confine beings— all cages and all forms. Language is a
series of humiliating repetitions. Halfway through my read,
I'm redacting live, unsure of my word, image blown out by
the careless endurance of a too-slow shutter speed, shame.
Each exigency of this jurisdiction drives me further from
my certitude. In a day or so there is a puddle beneath the
box. Everything melts, and still I have no words to describe

It is that slim margin of hot nights within penumbra of cold.
Spun into this season of rigor— what is wrong with me that
already I can't identify anything I would like to do besides
remain in your company, follow a tree's shadow hours. You
say I always want to take it to the roof and I wish I knew
one thing wrong with being high on top with you.

Even to gravity there is much to lose. Brought to my end:
roof of tower, edge of wilderness, exposure. Wind swabs
the perimeter of any island. It is too mundane to always
have a story straight. Make me say from whence my gray:
nightmare of my father throwing sponges on the back
porch, and a new circumstantial demand for cognizance. I
am shy and tired. Now you know this version.

There are physics to solitude, sock pattern plot in a clean
apartment, activity of night or day, work holds a body in
congruent shapes. Daniella says there is a masculine quality
to her sadness. We are unrecognizable, changing form,
drumming away. Same strange muscle behind her guitar.
Wailing is the word. To reach out from isolation, direct it
forward, find it form. Unlocked mine on a bottom floor.
Noise after all is what I always want. The relief of vacancy
is very Sunday.

Push my late thought across the table, pushing toward,
waiting for confirmation of receipt. What is the cost of
time: waiting, not waiting, pivoting toward or away from,
cleaning out each drawer in my house, rearranging tapes,
and rubber tubes, other collections I can't seem to lose.
Patricia asks about my career, and I know I am sick when
etymology boxes me— sudden entrapment within an image
of something propelled through air— careening.

That moving object is my bubble, body, melted down,
inked like words on sheets, spilled, and in a puddle now.
Nun in the movie instructs the girls to keep their answers to
the cop short and bitter. Bitter is my jaw, too. Each fact
revokes itself in conflict with any facile desire to know
which version is real, to trust some brief stasis. My father's
lesson is that time itself expires within itself; lithium or any
drug becomes too heavy metal for the privilege of
endurance. And every few years of my life I meet a new
man in him. Our skulls are still the same football, our
mouths the same fig.

Rituals of mourning are so partial within cycles of worn
remembrance, incomplete reemergence. Hold still, chin
[hold it roughly]. Watch the window: details blur outside
the car. What is real is just the greenness of the smear
perceived now by one damp eye duo.

Dial his number. Sit in the silence. And wish for
restoration, our order. This time help me— please—
implore his wisdom to surface and ensconce the bobbing
egg of my consciousness, to father me. My old dog is most
docile and unadventurous. Goes for a walk since we know
it is best. To abide in the salt spray of our youth. Mind, my
refuge, transient sentience, I beg you: stay. Open free
meandering mine.

Where are you? Massachusetts man left a jar of coins
behind in my house. Coins inscribed with language other
than that of his swollen tongue. Where did you get these? I
wonder, sifting through them for pennies to cast, to read my
fortune out from the book of changes. My time has more
sprawl. I stole countless time.

Where are the lives I thought were mine, collected as old
dishes in the sink, but more disposable. Were they made of
paper, ice, coins? My recollection is that they were made of
bodies, and time. This sisterhood is both more specific and
more diffuse after discrete reckonings with the dents of our
adjacent childhoods. Her boyfriend assures her I am too
weird to sell out. There remains in my mind a kitchen sink
big enough for us both to sit upright and mirror image each
other howling face.

Are you gaslit by the immateriality of the past? The date
changes, I toe the brace around the inkwell, river more
placid since sun tumult. How many shades she contains. It
is corny to steal a full day in private conquest, to write a
poem, before running toward a waning sun, calling dad on
the way to my drum.


Tess Brown-Lavoie is author of Lite Year (Fence Modern Poets Series, 2019). Her writing is printed in Fence, Text Means Tissue, The New Farmer’s Almanac, and various punk publications that resist enumeration in bio format. Tess performs and teaches, drums for the band Mother Tongue, and cofounded Sidewalk Ends Farm in 2011. She serves as President of the National Young Farmers Coalition.