The Names of Things
by Matthew Brown
They swell when you put them in your mouth,
fresh from picking, all cool sweet flame of taste
and the rest water. And there are special ladders,
wide at the bottom and narrow at the top
to fit between branches, incomplete arrows
pointing towards the dusty blue of summer
skies in the Mississippi Valley – and nothing else.
There are buckets filled with the crimson
bursting things, and I am happy with the doing
of a job that needs doing and gets done. And
there is a plastic owl, far out on a branch’s end,
put there to scare birds away, which never works.
As a child, I used to shoot it until it fell
into the tall grass around the tree trunks,
and then had to sit for hours, under
the slat-tin roof that kept the wood pile dry,
shooting the starlings and jays that came
to spoil our cherries with an old 410/
.22 over and under of my grandfather’s.
The shot, I was told, was for efficiency
the bullet was to shape me a man.
They came darting into the cool branched
hallways of leaves and rushed explosively
out into buckshot. It’s a simple thing,
a child learns a game of little consequence,
the closing of a fist. He learns what life is
by the taking of it. Its weight is feathers
and smoke, and the rest is mostly water.
Matthew Brown currently teaches writing and literature at Middle Tennessee State University and has degrees in writing from Southern Illinois University and Western Washington University. He has edited and published in several literary journals, including The Crab Orchard Review and The Bellingham Review. This poem comes from his manuscript, Kaskaskia, which is set predominately in southwestern Illinois and deals with cultural issues as well with his family’s long and sordid history there.