J. Scott Brownlee
Hill Country Elegy
Let the division of light be the barbed-wire fence line.
Let it divide up everything. Let it determine where
the boundaries of the day and the first darkness are.
Let the beef cattle enter and exit the pasture
as they each see fit, licking piles of salt from the round,
rubber basins the hired hands fill for their thick tongues
to lick. Let what the deer eat in the long drought be enough.
Let the landscape contain itself. Here where the golden light
of sun going gradually down leaves me singing the songs
German forefathers sang, ranchers taming the land,
let me return to the basics of living off the land.
For over eighteen years I thought I would never grieve,
leaving here. Now, it’s the deer calling me back
with their white tails, faint flicks in the darkness again
between my snake chaps and the bee brush, the mesquite
scrub and the needled cactus spines. Everywhere I look,
there is tangible evidence of my hill country origins.
As I pass through the pasture on my way to the highway,
I see a buck. In my high-powered scope, in the crux
of its cross-hairs where the deer marks a vanishing point,
there’s an infinite place I can never quite reach:
an erasure fills it. Both the buck and myself will disappear,
and I understand this. But until then, one bullet joins
my body to the buck’s. For a second, we’re linked
by the passing of it through twilight between us.
Its hot cone breaks his skin—enters in where
it enters my skin. Shared friction burns the two of us
at its vanishing point, where a great peace fills me—
and an emptiness, him. Christ got up on a cross
to prove he meant business. My own father took me
hunting several times, though I never liked it.
Now, I’m doing it simply because I miss him.
This one ritual kill is ours. Tonight we can say anything.
Distance passes through us like light thrown down
from stars. We are drawn near by it—so close
the bullet I shoot at the sky, streaking up, touches him.
J. Scott Brownlee is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, here he teaches poetry to undergraduates and second graders through the Teachers & Writers Collaborative. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, RATTLE, Nashville Review, BOXCAR Poetry Review, and elsewhere. A poet-of-place, Brownlee writes primarily about the people and landscape of rural Texas. His book-length work, County Lines, was recently named a Semifinalist for the 2012 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.