Issue 6 / Poetry

Poetry by Brynn Downing


I was thirteen the first time, unwilling

to walk uphill, the highway’s asphalt baked by July.

What did your mother think, friend


I have not thought of in years, when she saw

us hop from a pickup truck

skip to the lake’s edge laughing?


The nerve of us:

still hairy, barely breasted— every man

father or brother, eyes gentle and mouths uncruel.


Years later, it’s New Year’s Eve and snowing.

The cabs refused to run and so you and I walked,

thumbed the first car—


a young cop, who says we are foolish

(we are also drunk), then sits us behind lattice screen

to drive us home.


When he unlocks the back seat,

I think I’ve never had a man

open the door for me before.


And the other nights, too, stranded by the bus or too drunk

to drive, babbling conversations as I attempted to remember

faces and names, like a smart girl would


only to forget them all

as I stumbled across the threshold.

Then months of hiking by thumb, kidding myself


it was pilgrim’s progress up and down Schlossberg

speaking broken dialect with farmers

or men without their children.


The only things that saw me

were crossroad crucifixes and cows

and their dumb, hooded eyes.



How did I not die?


Twenty-six and still breathing; fucking

a guy to get rid of him, or hands demanding


parts of me, a man yelling on the street.

That’s nothing,



The odds stacked against my body

and me, yet somehow we did it—





I didn’t ask to be made of sweetness:

beans of impossible jelly, floor

lacquered with sugar. My windows stared

at each child, asking them to turn.

The other animals knew to skirt this clearing.

Rain charmed from my gumdrop walk.

I was made to swallow, to bear teeth on my walls.

I was hungry, too:

company, a fire

in my licorice hearth, some meat carving

powdered air. There are so many children

we didn’t eat, bones that grew thick

big; brittle then wormed. Now nothing

no teeth to dismantle me bite by bite

a testament to my nature.




One student says it’s immolate

doesn’t that mean to warm?


Some have studied Vietnam.


I ask them

to explain to the class


have you seen pictures


have you seen pictures

of the monk?


lotus-kneed, showered in gasoline.

People bowing to him, silent

but for his flesh



Why would he do that, Miss?


In the classroom, the smell:

burning newspaper, ash



How can I ask them

what they think—


what have I loved

what have I wanted



Brynn Downing currently serves as the thirty-fourth writer-in-residence at St. Albans School in Washington, DC. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she also directed the Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival. You can find her online at Selected by Dawn Lundy Martin.

Image via manhhai via Flickr Creative Commons.