On Cowardice, the mother of cruelty
There is a story I tell myself
to explain why I never told her I see its trace
every day— a spiral of your vomit in the toilet.
The story deemphasizes our ease of sex, and my knowledge
that blood and fat no longer renew
her uterus – it recreates
her lightness and solitary will, our silence, until everything cracks, splays
as the prism stranded on the ceiling, wavering across
until an imperfection, and the complexity loses
and grows: outward in distortion
—all claws and belly and blur.
There is a story I tell myself to explain
how our human drama could not possibly be a kind of
sight until it is impolite to capitalize Earth. Impolite
to say so what, who cares about your kitten—and my babygirl—
who are nothing
if we have no cuttlefish, no bees, no elephants.
We do not go: we are borne along like things that float. Comforted
that we cannot choose the qualities of the light in which we are
I want to say I hear it whispered
everywhere, as a tattered cloud dissolves into what comes after
—given a chance to fall into minerals, crush
painted as the rooster advertised on the refugee death-truck
that rumbles through Hungary, the rooster saying
I taste so good because they feed me so well.
This is our dome and its reflection of us.
This is our Prisoner’s Dilemma: whether to believe your counterpart won’t
whether you will damn one another with your small raft
whether you will do nothing until
That’s the last male of a species singing for a female who will never come.
All this time what was I pleading to?
I could have been sending postcards to old flames
as if they were the war buddies I never had,
or pleading to senators who replies read as rejection letters,
or inquiring to the horse-groom in Sussex
whether grandma’s horses have hay or will starve again
this winter, munching through the stable’s oak posts and
That summer we touched their sides—their ribs
neither of us ready to ride. Only the billowing grass
to save us. What is there between the master and the
servant when both have fulfilled their doom?
I want more for us, I want to say.
I would package myself inside a thought to you, I would,
melting into air.
Brandon Lewis lives and teaches in NYC. Poems of his can be found colored on and scattered about by his baby, as well as in Drunken Boat, The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, Fjords Review, apt, and Spork. The poems published here are part of a project that takes its titles and part of its form from Michel de Montaigne’s Essais.