Back to Issue Thirteen.

Into the Valley Oak That Will Not Sing, That Will Not Even Talk



for Phil Levine 

We commend the spirits
of dead cows whose bones
bleach in the cruel radiance
of the sun god Ra’s land,
these Egyptian pastures.
Mirages melt salt pyramids
at the edge of escarpment
and cedar thicket. Snag 
yourself on a limb or a great-
horned owl’s call navigating
back roads or the guitar music
at the local pool shack 
referred to as “a bar”
despite only Shiner
in its beverage coolers.
The drunk dart players spin 
on their axes of booze,
smoke, and country lyrics 
but remain beautiful
in their constant twirling
back into each other.
Have you ever watched them?
Have you ever listened
to the sermon of bodies
relaxed and laughing?
To commune as they do
you must give up 
your good life, the city,
the Q train, Park Slope,
and pizza. Traveler,
settle here if you know
what work is and cannot
escape it without feeling guilty.
Come and teach school
at least. You’re the man
with two wives caught
between deciding—
the two cities you keep
like two young families
who don’t know each other
though they met on the 4th
of July at the fireworks
show in this two-bit 
county that includes Llano, 
Kingsland, and part of a vast 
lake that touches the sky 
when you stand beside it 
as the thunderheads build 
the same blue erasure
they are building today
with their ruthless anvils.
Disappear here and no one
will ever find you. Steal
a truck and head out on 16
to the coast, or the border,
or hell—drive wherever 
you want with the lover 
you miss and have not
written yet but will write 
to today when the rainfall
ceases, and you’re left
in a Ford with some paper,
a pen, and your fingertips 
inked blue as if dipped
in blood from a vein
in your arm extending
for miles if you stretch it out
in your imagination all the way
from Brooklyn to your heart
in Texas: just the way you like it.      



J. Scott Brownlee is a poet from Llano, Texas. His work appears widely and includes the chapbooks Highway or Belief, which won the 2013 Button Poetry Prize, Ascension, which won the 2014 Robert Phillips Poetry Prize, and On the Occasion of the Last Old Camp Meeting in Llano County, which won the 2015 Tree Light Books Prize. His first full-length collection, Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and selected by C. Dale Young as the winner of the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize. Brownlee is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class. He teaches for Brooklyn Poets as a core faculty member, and is a former Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, where he earned his MFA.