Abraham Smith on Greg Alan Brownderville’s “Song for a Kiss”

[Note: This is the second in a series of posts focusing on writers who are included in the Hick Poetics Anthology.]

Song for a Kiss

Something quick and wet on my neck.
I whipped around, and right behind me
in the lunch line: Mary-Arkansas Greene,
grinning shy mischief
and maybe adoration.
The girl who always stared at me
during penmanship.
Anger went all over me like fire ants.
Imagining a smear of mud on my nape,
as if she had stained me with her blackness,
I reached back and tried to rub it off with my collar. I felt like blessing her out
but didn’t speak a sound.
Her grin was gone.
I rubbed my neck again, but I could tell:
The kiss was there.

Third-grade year, Mary-Arkansas
moved to Little Rock, and I never saw her again.
I sometimes thought of her kiss
when the days dragged themselves
like doomed soldiers through the Delta. Towns dying,
blacks and whites forever fighting.
Sweet Willie Wine lashed to a light pole and stoned.

Sheriff’s home bombed.
A young father mobbed and kicked to death at a track meet.
One high school night, “the races”
were set to rumble in downtown McCrory.
The Bloods were coming from Little Rock,
the Klansmen from the Ozarks. This had to be settled.
But nothing happened. I drove dead easy
down the main drag at midnight.
Calm, deserted. The wind’s nonchalance.
The quiet was violence, too.

On Friday and Saturday nights, white daughters sneaked
“behind the bank” with black sons,
and disheveled white fathers sat in their cars
with handles of whiskey, shotguns
pointed straight at Plantation Subdivision.

No peace. No peace in quiet.
And so I speak. Confess. Testify.

One morning when I was seventeen,
I heard about Mary-Arkansas. The dark, exciting news,
like dirty drugs from a syringe,
coursed through the halls of tiny McCrory High.
“Remember Mary-Arkansas Greene?!
She got shot in the head last night in Little Rock!
They say she might not make it through the day.”
I wanted to drive to Little Rock,
find the hospital, find her room,
walk in slow, and touch her hand.
Lean down and kiss her.
At once I felt ashamed
for dreaming that my kiss—belated blessing—
would be worth a good goddamn.
That it could heal, heal anything: her, me, home.

But Mary-Arkansas’s kiss.
Soft and urgent on my neck,
sweet opposite of rope, it never left me.
I think it never will.

[this poem appeared in Virginia Quarterly]


this potent poem of place sings. & here is a favorite end-stopped line:

The quiet was violence, too.

the delta–that underwater sense of destabilizing flat. where the duende music of america was and is–the delta.

this is dangerous. that taint sense of the kiss. the kiss that is a blessing. a blessing and a curse. from the acidic hates of this fierce place grow the haints, the frictions, and the harm-sparks of this poem. the holy business of reckoning with oppositions is unruly and unholy here.

the tender neck is the focus of this poem. the lynching hell of that place is everywhere here. and from the neck sprouts the peavines of brownderville’s song. if you’ve been to this place then you know that apocalyptic lasthumanstanding sense. then you have known the ruin of the hush. how singing does nothing but it’s something that just has to be. a song is not an action and it never will be. but it just has to be. just has to.

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