Craig Brandis

Image by Kristin Ducharme
“Fish (Crowded),” Kristin Ducharme, pencil on archival paper, 2018, @kristin_ducharme_artist

I Like it When You Say Don’t Do That

Given how ordinary isn’t feeling well
The smelting process you counted on doesn’t work
And I won’t say how much it offends me
His wife left him after triple dog years
The bunches of dried gunk on the stairs
A dreadful science that works
How crabapples rot before they ripen
To that burr hole behind the eyes I say
You tell me I think too much
From the court of no appeal
I’m trying out a way to say I love you that sits on the stairs
They made it as far as the orchard
I’m working on a building like the early Christians
Better after it fell in
Mine is made of blue mud and marsh straw
Breaking the windshield of everything small
How could I do it any differently
Hard to see it along the fence line
You take infinite care with light manufacturing
Our low ceiling of acanthus leaves
And I want to tell you how much I like it
When you say don’t do that

First Christmas

for Duane

Now a man sees a
box of outdoor lights
thinks those need me
two wicker deer
in the basement
with animatronic ears
shoulders turning
Neighbor is always
too cheerful for me
says driveway things
I don’t encumber
TV snout calls me
inside it is getting
late dinner doesn’t
make itself how I
remember your pinewood
feet the keening they said
wasn’t really you
It is a line of credit with
a beast for collateral
I can see it out loud in
the way of frayed muslin
over cheekbones
or the allowance of it
try to keep it in view
put my hands on the places
where others became
weathered gifts without
looking around too much
to land sputter-blind
in the narrow sunshine
scattered and piecewise
more catchall than curtain

Morning’s Whaleback

We stood outside the columbarium
on a day bright and combed rough.

Smell of formalin seeping under the high glass door.
River in flood covering the fields.

Morning’s whaleback rising and falling,
encrusted with orange bits of memories.

Medieval the way we carry remains
to the edge of town, laying them out like spoons.

Twisting a stem around the neck
and then back on itself.

Fathers and Sons

She took my hand
Placed in it a skipping stone

Taken in a swallow
It burns, this life

Makes a stigmata
Of needful things

Sows cheatgrass
In the deepest swale

Turns sons
Against fathers

As if driving elk
Before the wind

Live Birth

Yesterday, I watched a seal swing a salmon
in its mouth, a blood-lined purse spraying coins

over silvered wood — a security guard
on swing shift in Yokoshima absorbing

his last dose of radiation. Diego Rivera said,
to make a mural come alive, he mixed in some death.

I nod, smell the stone dust of the Anaconda mine,
listen to a five-story loader growl under heavy lidded eyes.

My three poets, Raymond, Jack and Anne, speak of things
that argue under bridges before the light can fix them.

Use everything, says Raymond — put it all in.
I walk past the middle school, scuffling my feet in a drift

of winter road salt the sweeper missed. Last year, our granddaughter
was born with a bowel obstruction and needed immediate surgery.

Staff, sharp and friendly as pins, didn’t blink.
That’s what I think of when I think of being born —

wounded in the stomach, a blue quickening by the window,
the world’s bloody cord. The light incoming like a thicket of arrows.

Author’s Note

One of my poetry teachers thinks poets have a lot in common with early Christians. “Who else meets in small rooms to talk about poetry?” Poetry feels devotional to me too. It implies taking one’s own life seriously enough to make art freely, generously, regardless of circumstance. A little over a year ago our granddaughter was born with a bowel obstruction and needed immediate surgery. Those hours became both hyper-focused and elastic. Nothing felt more important than being present and prayerful. Time also had an eternal quality. Thankfully, baby Willa is fine now. She is full of beans and the joy of life. One of the poems included here, Live Birth, grew from that experience. One of my other literary guides, Henry David Thoreau, said, “in literature, it is wildness that attracts.” That insight is another polar star for me. Artists I admire most — poets, painters and musicians, all seem to have both of those qualities. You could call it a devotional wildness. I hope a little of that alchemical quality finds its way into my poetry also.

Craig Brandis lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon and studies poetry at the Attic Institute for Literary Arts in Portland. His poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Quarterly, Plume, Trampoline, Alba and elsewhere. A selection of his work was long-listed for the Palette Poetry Emerging Poet prize for 2020. He has been a contributing poet at Breadloaf. He is a volunteer teacher and has developed a short course for teaching fourth and fifth grade children online, along with an interested parent, about poetry and how to write it. Most days he walks for miles on hilly roads and trails near his home while listening to and occasionally writing poems. More info at