Conor Bracken


A day after the afterbirth’s been rubbed
off your head (“like a coconut
with injured sentience,” dark-haired
and howling) we call you
Everett, which means, we learn, brave
as or braver than a hog/wild boar.
Your entire future, now, framed
by a question stitched of pigs: which
one will you compare yourself to
and, in courage, match, if not outdo?
As I see it, there are three: the sounder
of warthogs I saw at Hwange once outmaneuver
a baffled cheetah; the tusked
flood of wild hogs annexing the Southeast US;
and the A-10C Warthog which flies over
flaring oilfields low and slow
as the heat needed to smoke
the toughness from a brisket,
fired on by occasional tanks it shreds
with armor-piercing depleted-
uranium rounds that buzz out of its nose-slung
Gatling gun by the hundreds
every second. I’ve been conditioned to love
anything fletched with thousands of pounds of explosives
suspended under thousands of pounds of titanium plating
(meaning the plane can withstand
nearly as much damage as it can inflict)
and I have grown to see myself in it,
lumbering over conflicts I don’t
understand and can’t end, nestled among my heat-resistant
flame-retardant layers of whitish
foam and chiming in when people suggest
cutting it from the budget to say ‘but its presence
over a battlefield reduces civilian casualties since
the pilot is low enough to provide situational context
absent from the lo-res images drone pilots
hemispheres away use to reach a verdict on
firing (“like looking through a straw”)’
instead of thinking about how we could
cut the battle from the field
but you will have to make your own choices.
As soon as it attaches
to you, we sing and growl, cut and stretch
your name. We practice
folding and unfolding it, sometimes like a switch
blade discipline will flick
and other times like a sail
the wind will fill
and use to push you far
beyond our narrow threadbare reach.

Coco Chanel Was a Nazi Spy

but not a very good one.
What a relief
for the hats she made
that look like bells hammered to
the air’s steeple, each wearer
an enormous spongy clapper.
Her perfumes,
the pulse points they’re dabbed on to, the blood
that warms the dabs a little so they
sink serrated toes into the sloppy breeze, the meadows
shorn, the flowers juiced, the whales
scooped free of ambergris and wheeling
slowly towards the hadal zone,
carcass piecemeal blooming into
a cloud that hums up plumes of microscopic life—
they are also relieved
that all they have to bear is incompetence.
No body count, no train car
shunted east, no mass grave dug
in frozen ground, no resistance
fighter pulled out at a checkpoint just beyond the city thanks
to her—just the failure to relieve her
Jewish partners of their share of profits,
and maybe, though it never came to it,
their lives.
What’s the question: how
well she slept beneath the thinning blanket
her denials drew over the past?
(Teeth gritted, majestic as an alp beneath
a glacier’s long retreating tongue, I’d bet.)
No—it’s what happens to the desire
to harm. To see the lever roped
to someone else’s leaping pulse
and wrench it anyway, past the resistance where
the gears meet, the machine a sleek extrusion of
the internal ethical contraption
that works like noctilucent lane markers—
more suggestion than command.
I’m asking for a friend.
He lives inside my head, in the little room
that has no ceiling, where I allow myself
to know that we are what
we do and what we say
as much as what we
fail to do or say or know.
His father, too, has been a spy,
for an empire of teeth and throats,
the gnash and peristaltic gulping.
He is also buckled to a telescope spending
all night peering
into the darknesses between
what we know to see if
it is really darkness or just more distance
lacquered over the weak, intrepid light
that someday will arrive, an echo
of the facts and deeds that kept us
fed and sheltered, roofs
hovering above our heads like blindfolds.

Afternoon Prayer

In the parking lot a man takes off
his shoes. Medical waste and cheese, large
tubes of gas and food-grade milk and
families being hauled by steel
that baffles explosions into speed
don’t notice. The list
of what is unaware of him
is infinite.
It grows
and as it grows it casts a shadow
as robust as god but less resilient—it shrinks
when language touches it.
He takes off
his shoes so he can touch that language
without staining it. The wind
plucks teeth out of the black canal
the highway hugs and hurls them, banking
his green rug over his feet’s ten tongues.
What do you want, my wife asks,
from the Burger King. He kneels,
then doubles over for a moment,
a snail inhabiting its endless whorl of wind.

Conor Bracken is a poet and translator. His first full-length collection of poems, The Enemy of My Enemy is Me, is out now from Diode Editions, and his translation of Jean D’Amérique’s No Way in the Skin without this Bloody Embrace will be published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2022.