james brush

The Rope Swing

We were the shadows
that filled the sky while
ten thousand flying foxes
hung sleeping in the trees.
We raced up the street,
tropical sky and a flash
of the South China Sea’s
brightness squinting our eyes.
Barefoot down the hill,
not thinking once about
bamboo vipers the color
of grass to the rope swing
made (we all imagined) from
the same rope they used
to hang Tojo. Running,
we took our lives in hand,
swung out over the houses
in the loop, imagined
we could soar and in airborne
moments learned to love
the risk, the danger,
the sunny disregard for
the bone-shattering distance
to the rooftops down below,
the all-too brief air in your face
seconds when we could have
just let go,
birds learning to fly—
unschooled and unbound
by our parents’ gravity.

Here Comes a Twister

She grew up in the land of twisters,
seeking shelter in middle bathrooms.

She baptized herself in the rivers of glass
sparkling through the broken house.

Wall clouds turned and blackened,
the sky decayed, fell down from itself.

Monsters ate trees in the night
but by morning, birds always returned,

the feeders full of color and song,
while all around hailstones melted.

Only small questions remained, then;
the big ones were all torn up

with the trees and trails, apologies
she used to believe she owed.

A familiar man in coveralls claims
he can repair the roof faster, cheaper,

better than the other guys who don’t
understand these things (sign here please).

Her fists clench, knuckles ache like love;
she relaxes only when he leaves.

She whispers secrets to her daughter:
about the days of electricity and engines,

about the thrill of kneeling wild-eyed
before the weather radio’s robot voice,

about prayers for thunder and wind,
about how she learned to control storms

and how everything that happens
flashes in a dark and roaring instant.

Flags of Convenience

Flecks of sea rust
trailed phantom ships,

their crews (it’s said)
marooned in paradise.

In this crash economy
we had no choice—

fight the fishing fleets,
reflag at sea.

An old fax machine
wired to a car battery

sent our request to join
some landlocked navy.

We lined up behind
flags of convenience

leading us forever
from our green homes.

While sharks and frigates circled,
I reckoned the distance

between our two hearts
and almost made the leap.

James Brush lives in Austin, TX, where he teaches high school English. He is the author of Birds Nobody Loves, and A Place Without a Postcard. You can find him online at Coyote Mercury, where he keeps a full list of publications.

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