110.1: Lily Brown:: Trashed or Tied & Transparency 110

I’ve been thinking a lot about trains lately. I don’t have a car and the way I am conveyed from one point to another has never been—save for walking—exactly in my control. This seems a good way of thinking about reading, too—it’s like boarding a train without knowing where you’ll end up or how exactly you’ll get there. As the train moves along its path, there are semaphores signaling when to brake or plow forward. Lily Brown writes as a semaphore. Through carefully constructed distance, Brown is able to signal the message that her readers will apprehend. Though distance and depth may not be easily controlled, Brown conducts them, flagging the trains into the station and breaking the formless night into a grid with windowpanes.

If we measure physical space with our voices, we become louder with distance and softer as we come closer, but Brown’s poems thwart the instinct to yell after what is far away. She speaks softly, asks the reader to lean in. These poems benefit from holding the reader at a distance, allowing us to experience the speaker’s meditation as a direct, though soft, address. The danger of such distance might be the risk of emotional disengagement, but who among us hasn’t held someone at arm’s length to discover our true feelings about them? In this distance, Brown asks the reader not only to look at the signs, but to experience the charged space that separates the poem from the reader. S. Whitney Holmes

Trashed or Tied

Six white windows slit night
open to its emptiness.

What do you read on its canvas?

What pulled you here
(burnt air) cools
itself in the river’s basin,
smudges sunup.

Someone’s finger says
of the local skyline
smoke there.

Then fog dispenses with street.

Which would you prefer,
the manhandled garden
or the monstrous
dandelion out of its head?


Branches press flat on glass.
Down the street, semaphores.

Heavy jugs of light
judder at crossroads

close to elegant until a picture
points them out.

All day I splinter leaves
with my feet, conduct them

in, singed flags.
I think I see you in the back window,

waving there, your show moving
west then east.

The photos so dramaturgical.
Torso turns to see

how great a distance I earned
to make.