The study suggests that if a child fails
to refuse marshmallows, petite as baby-teeth,
offered on a white plate, impulse control
will be a problem all of his life.
The TV spokesman in a dark suit points—
Here we have the overeater, the drinker, the hoarder.
But if the child learns early, say
before the age of eight, that
more marshmallows will arrive
if he sits and waits, a good dog,
then will-power will be set
and the talent for avoiding trouble
for himself or others will benefit
us all. What should be done?
I imagine sudden colonies of pup-tents
arriving in towns like traveling
revivals, the sweet voices of the ones
who provide. The ones who hold the keys
to a reward always to come later
if only we believe now. And what fortunes?
Money, happiness, the ridiculous jest
of perfect love? The world may tip
with all we’ve been promised –
even the world to come, a prescribed beauty
not our own. The small men and women seen
from above and the great benefactor
in the clouds, sensing our tension as we
walk to school, to work, to the overly
greenly-lit grocery store. What thoughts or
returns or wool-making for a small child
sitting at a table, being told – take, eat,
this is the pure body of the world
you must learn to live without.
O, how they take on earth, turn white
blossom’s yellow heart to sweet.
I’d never known such fruit before
I stole it. How to trust a thing eternal
as my hunger, a root or dark pendulum balancing
where desire bridges the days. And should I
be grateful to forget what pleasures I’ve taken
to tongue? Must I pocket the pretty blade
atop the plump soft heft in the hand?
The Future of Anywhere
It could be winter again in 1916, Jack London,
in his death dream is still sailing to Tahiti
and the gristmills of the east are starting up.
The dogs gather into troops to tear the meat
from the meat. There may be pirates
along any coast. Fires burn endlessly.
There will be collapse and surge of armies
clashing where no one sees. Before this
it was always wars and death and birth
and perhaps a bit of the bird in the breast
of a few. What’s changed? Outside the window
the cold wind still pushes its ways and wins.
Not even in Stockholm or Minsk are they
used to this. The good gentleman warm
their barrel chairs in the club where golden
whiskey cannot melt ice. April May then
June again with sweet violet. Some woman’s
hair scented to swoon. The soldier hears moonlight
pooling near his cot, the mind of the child
holds the wings of moths, and the wind again
rising stirring its comrades. Future’s curtain opening
to this and this and this.
Ways of Sympathy
When I ask a man about his recent trip,
he says, look, there’s value in experience, worth
in the act of moving through troubled land.
These days it’s all swift flights, easy taxi rides
to the beach. I shake my head. He says, what
we really need is a punishing bus ride
over rough terrain, long vistas, frosted peeks
high in the clean cold air where no one travels.
To be comfortably in pain is good and true
and purposeful. He tells me in Outer Mongolia,
for example, no one owns the land, it is a nation
of voyagers and the camps they stake are marked
by single smoke threads in the distance.
There’s space enough for living and dying
alone. I saw long borders vanishing
off mapmaker’s tables, entire ranges
left undefended, the greedy children we are
taught a lesson so elemental I felt in it
a secret pity. Beyond all the layers
of comfort and surfeit, even reason
and fear pull away. Hard to say this
to my friend who, going blind, childless,
who, having just lost his mother said yes to science,
to scooping her sweet eyes and closing
the door on fire. Though I don’t know, I do it anyway –
Say, look, beyond the ease of swift relief awaits
a brutal terrain and even farther
a coniferous Taiga where the biome
are mostly familial – arctic foxes, ermines,
wolverines at home in deep snow.
You flourish on a winter of sinew
and blood. You learn how to move again
among the boreal lichen, where pain and thrive
is the same faithful animal nature. I say, imagine…
your own fur, dense and remarkable
in the harsh winds.
I had no idea that waking at 3 a.m. to enter fully
my worry, would be a welcome to the day,
almost every day the same, the street in which
the still house shines, the glasses being washed
by hand and set to dry on a striped towel
beside the sink so clean. This is what you do, I think,
hitting my hand on the metal chair left pulled out
at the café, someone, a man, leaving things in disarray
wherever I go. It does no good no good to know
the photographs you framed hang in some
beautiful house in St. Paul. You’re gone into a winter
forever. This is how to laugh, you used to say to me.
And I’d say, how? Like this? Like this you’d say,
wandering down the unlit part of the long hall.
A.M. Brandt’s poems can be found at The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review, The Louisiana Review, The Nebraska Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cimarron, and The Cortland Review, among others. She teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
For additional insight into A.M. Brandt’s writing process and her work, please enjoy the following short essay.
Poems come over me like a swoon or a rush. I’m not really on my feet. I feel dizzy in love and the only thing to do is give over and sit down to write it. I’ll work on it anywhere. I’m always thinking about it even when I’m not writing it. This is not exceptional or romantic. I imagine this is the way for most writers. Actual sensory perception in congress with some magical or metaphysical guesswork is what most intrigues me. That and the vital poetic leap really good poems make without apology.
The best poems resist the hyperbole of total abstraction or the depiction of a completely denuded world. That’s not to say I am very consistent to my interests or abilities. I have a few different voices that show up. Sometimes the world appears very sideways and the only way to make sense of it is in nonsensical terms. Even then, I am always pulling toward the sensual, the translatable. I find poems to be a little bloodless that care less about the reader’s experience than their own indulgences. I’m always working to move from the intimate gesture out toward some metaphorical or illumined opening that renders meaningful for the reader, if even in oblique ways.
What I admire in others’ work is what I hope to achieve in some small part in my own, though it may not be in vogue these days. I tend toward a grounded narrative that lifts off the page in a myriad of peculiar ways to create a sensation of encountering something we might have sensed or suspected but have never fully met until the experience of the poem happens for us.