William Brewer



Had you a head I'd set this razor by your side
as a gift then sweep

your silver hair into a bowl, a nest
of strings from a drove of unstrung cellos

half-buried in a field, in a round, like the parliament
of death. Had you a head

you'd have a mouth
and moan the song of a cello played by flame.

From its soot, from clay, you'd assemble your sons, their hands          
assemble like air above a creek cattails

hem the edge of like a skirt
the hands slide under in the dark of your infinite

storeroom and wander. Barges
spinning on a mud-sick river. No, some canoe

deaf to the wind on a porcelain lake
black-nailed fingers of a child creep across to pick

the last bits of muskrat stew
that oil-slicks the tongue in a Sunday's light.

Come day from underground your faithful rise
like locusts in a hunger so thick the sun

drops in a continual accident
of wealth they can't acknowledge for fear it will be taken.

Had you a head it'd be clean, be cool
in its state of without the way some frost is known

by its no longer being. Being who can bless
blessed not this land. No one will say it;

I will. You're nothing
but the burnt edge of an unfinished history.

I press your hair inside a chapter, make a seam
some far-off other will discover

as quicksilver
pooled in their hands. Violence is a surface of ripples,

maybe: points of wind-raked grass
in a valley exhaling with an arsonist's guilt.

Had you a head you'd have ears I am your son
I'd say into I'd say something

about the flies, how on the eighth day
I bound my knuckles in a halo of brass

and punched my friend in the face then spat
on his face on the ground

but the wind caught some spit
like flies made of crystal trying to flee from my mouth.




While visiting my childhood home in West Virginia in January, 2014, the Elk River chemical spill occurred, leaving thousands in the southern half of the state without water. When reading about the incident in the national media, I was baffled by how the same themes that have always plagued appalachian life kept popping up: a brutal but beautiful landscape, poverty, corrupt government, being shackled to destructive industries, and isolation. This rebooted my fascination with my native region, and this poem was the first creative act to come of that. Appalachia's gothic qualities differ slightly from the rest of the South, and this poem is my attempt to capture that energy, that darkness, that simmering violence that only those hills can create.