Poetry by Greg Brownderville

Dark Corner


Me and Sparrel Rance were friends
ever since they clipped our unbiblical cords.
Side by side as babies,
we rode our mamas’ cotton sacks,
and later worked from can’t to can’t
together in the fields.
Soon as Aubrey, Sparrel’s brother,
got old enough to shadow us,
he made it three,
and Dark Corner, Arkansas,
had never seen such devilment.


Our fifteenth summer,
men and boys both, me and Sparrel
lit a fire below a rotten tupelo
and smoked out the bees.
We sawed the tree down, stole the hive,
and trucked it home along a path as wavy as a panther tail.
We cut the comb
in little waffly squares to go in every jar.
That was the awfullest amount of honey —
filled up two number three washtubs
like we took a bath in. After we got it all canned,
a few jars had some live bees in them.

We were sucking honey off the comb,
and Sparrel asked if I believed in ghosts.
I told him I would have to think about it.
He said one night when he was six, a shadowman
with an ankly cypress branch for a cane
shambled in the house
and lifted Aubrey off his corn shucks,
held him for a spell, and said, “Are you dead yet?”


Me and Sparrel went frog gigging
one night. I held the light.
Where the swamp was loggy
and we couldn’t pass,
you’d a thought bluegrass done gone metal,
way he worked that banjo of a chain saw.
Gar passed the boat
like black submarines.
We floated, listening to locusts, tree frogs, panthers —
thought we saw a bull shark up from the Gulf.
As the moon slipped under cloud cover
like a scared face,
drumfish took to drumming.
“Listen,” Sparrel whispered.
“Listen to that drum —
it’s like a stuttering heart.”

I was paddling, not to get somewhere
but just for pleasure, working that lazy water,
and Sparrel said, “I swear
it was a wet tornado.”
Said it a little too loud, like I was arguing.
“If I’d a jumped in, we both might a died.
I should a tried.”
I told him he was talking crazy.
He said, “God won’t save me —
he’s doing me just like I done Aubrey.”
Said sleep was a strong woman
but couldn’t take him anymore.
Every night he stuck to his covers,
doused with sweat,
seeing Aubrey spit and flail and bob loud-eyed
like a Holy Roller getting baptized.
“One night,” he said, “I threw my sheet off
and the demons come a-swishing in
chilly through my pores.
Next day I seen Jesus in overalls,
nibbling a ground-cherry.
He moseyed off into the tall cotton,
saying, ‘See you in the funny papers.’ ”


This Monday at the market,
I spied a jar of raw local honey.
The comb was like a box of shells.
I thought of Sparrel Rance,
them eyes of his
like a kitten’s not all the way open yet.
Late that man-child summer,
he fired a goose gun
at the stuttering drum in his chest
and left me,
left me a chain-saw banjo
and the need to truck with ghosts.


Vanilla Home Run

Left arm stretching for the catch,
the difference between winning and losing,
son among the diamonds
of a mesh-metal wall
holds the perfect scoop
against a huge and hungry silence.
Woozy with heat
and the pungency of deet,
keeping self enough — just enough —
to play at having none,
he decides.
What was aimed at the black panther street’s
dark mouth and green-light eyes
must not be stolen from the air,
must be going, going, gone!
But: for one quick tick
it’s his to love —
he’s there
with vanilla home run
in a sugar-cone glove.


Jookhouse in Burning Season

Sundown and the fields are burning black.
Stung lungs tighten, laughs coarsening to coughs,
but friends and kin still gather
at J.R.’s crumbledown shanty.
J.R. shreds his voice over a grate of song.
The knife he uses for a slide blurs
like cotton furrows through the window of a train.
Once, by chance, his guitar’s whine
matches pitch with a swinging door.

Everyone fills up on barbecued coon
and swigs from the same jug of stump-water whiskey.
A sixty-something farmhand
dances like he has a wasp up his pants leg.

Some of the boards on the hackly porch
are loose, turn into trapdoors,
but J.R. knows their snatching darkness
and how to work around them.

That laugh. Like sand caught in his throat.

Wet with sweat, snaky veins on his temples,
he attacks the black body
of his guitar with a rhythmic picking hand,
his knife against the strung-up neck.

Women hunched around a table
play Georgia skins, eyeing their cards
and cramming bills in rusted coffee cans.


Greg Alan Brownderville, a native of Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas, is the author of a collection of poems entitled Gust (Northwestern University Press, 2011). He teaches Creative Writing at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.

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