The Going Away

The past is rust, as oxidized: whatever clings
to our conversation, back-&-forth of friends,

six pack of Miller High Life, Camel cigarettes
if we quit quitting again. Back in this town

blessed by OxyContin & black tar heroin
the coach still calls shit plays from his gridiron

dais: absurd yellowjacket on his varsity t-shirt
a grinning absence after graduation when

the sidelines empty as they once did nights we ran
the triple option—not to mention the roads

circuiting to nowhere like split power lines
fried by their meth-blue wattage

or the lover we both shared a bed
& break with, though we don't discuss her

when we get together. I want to say
our meeting up is about brotherhood,

pray the beer will flow endlessly, not running
low as drinking water does through

the faulty piping of this drought-sieged city,
that the three deployments you did

won't erase you. With each new draft
the Milky Way's face loosens physics

beyond our focus until recognition is the last
bit of foam in our empty glasses.

The stars turn. We look up. Neither of us
remembers that birth from burning.

We sang supernovas. Now sad songs
say enough. Air guitars air enough.

What we can't fix, a song on the radio
mends. God bless Willie Nelson.

The Herons & the Catfish Understand Better Than Me What I'm Saying to You

Basho was careful with words.
Herons eating catfish
is a snapshot you might

think his eye would applaud
—& yet most catfish live
on the river bottom where

no beaks can reach them.
Similarly, to argue you understand
working class life without

work contradicts your thesis.
Ask the herons what "rural" means.
They will tell you. If they're busy,

use catfish couples for polling.
Talk to people. Go door-to-door
if you have to. You'll discover

the little the meek inherit after
working all week for shit pay
in podunk: a few beers, a taco,

perhaps a slice of the local pizza
which isn't much to brag about
in the grand scheme of being

from here, from Llano,
but more than almost anything
you assume the poor have.

J. Scott Brownlee is a poet from rural Texas. His poems appears widely, and he is the author of the full-length collection Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, as well as the chapbooks Highway or Belief, Ascension, and On the Occasion of the Last Old Camp Meeting in Llano County. He is the winner of the 2013 Button Poetry Prize, 2014 Robert Phillips Prize, 2015 Orison Poetry Prize, and 2016 Bob Bush Memorial Award for the Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters.