Back to Issue Eleven.

Elegy for the Mattresses Sleeping in the Past



Texas shipped up the horns, & Kansas put the bodies under them 
the signs says, as if history were matter of poundage.
I was born at four, seven & some spare ounces, no more 
than a steer’s leg those Junes in the Bluestem Pastures. 
Cowboy Junes. Junes of saddles broken into red sand
like all the oldest books. Like my Rosina, my Anna, yes 
the Cardarellas & the Meehans, all the ones who waited 
to cross on cattle ferries, to die in ways only butchers 
would’ve known about, ways none of them imagined 
as they watched the Adriatic grow smaller in the leave, 
waving to those too old to travel. After a while, even 
the patina tumors of Wyoming sagebrush sprouting 
around mesas half-erected by God, tilted West, & farther 
west, & west, & west: into the great deserts of light. 
Even the Spanish nuns in the rocky-pass monastery 
a few miles outside Laramie, perched in buzzard-black 
gowns, wished the many stars had ears in the pew-less 
churches of the mountain’s universe. And once, over 
streets named for states, on a balcony, the North face 
of the Rockies, I thought of my father, the white boils 
on his knuckles, the light in his eyes floating like a fly 
in Scotch, & coming home late from the city, staying up 
through the REM cycles of prairie-gray kids, anserine 
vagrants choosing trees in the new heat, like Jack Kerouac.
And in every window in the 1:30 L-train: a lit sin waiting 
for the orange underworld to snuff it like a cigarette 
cherry, & I could tell you Jesus was a raindrop on the rail 
on East 17th Street. And I could say it was The Buddha 
pushing his stone of cans to the repository, a field nurse 
wheeling blown ends to build a fire somewhere never 
caught on film. I could write you an equation of faces 
on the I-70 corridor, forgotten like high school algebra. 
I could blow a sad trumpet for the man in the apartment
two blocks up, North Oakland, still as a bald mannequin
sipping honey-colored liquor from a delicate, cut glass
that catches the one lamp turned on in the Pacific night,
& I could say the whole room was a leafy dream closing 
over a flashlight in a bear pit, & could grab your hand
to take you to where new flowers do not know us 
in the liberating dark. But in valleys near San Joaquin, 
while kit foxes eat tomatoes alone, late-night, listening
intently for slipper-footed coyotes, grape-pickers stir 
in the outer sheds, praying to Our Lady of the Elder Twigs
for what grows tender, like bruises, while the mattresses
laid in the highway yards, go on sleeping in the past. 

        *Note: Parts of the last two lines are adapted from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Youth,” as translated by Robert Bly: “the mattresses sleeping in the past.”



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Brian Tierney is a 2014-2016 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, and a graduate of the Bennington College MFA Writing Seminars. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNIBest New Poets 2013The Kenyon ReviewNarrativeHayden's Ferry Review, and others.

More by Brian Tierney:
"Unburying the Birthcord," Poetry, Issue Eleven.
"Waking in the Year of the Boar," Poetry, Issue Eleven.