Too many of the "Best of..." lists I've read give me the uncomfortable sensation that I'm witnessing a small act of incest. It's natural to love the artists with whom one's close, of course, and to want to share their work with the world, but I find equal pleasure in the rush of discovery. Some of the artists on this list are brand-new to me, which has made this project all the more exciting.
Traci Brimhall's work was brought to my attention only recently – and that's one of the reasons I wanted her to be next in the spotlight. Brimhall is an excellent and acclaimed writer, no doubt, but in reading her poems, I also had the privilege of opening my mind to something I'd never before encountered. What I see in Brimhall is a fantastic balance between contemporary conventions and freshness of image. I see a profound understanding of music and meter coupled with the occasional abruptness only a very confident voice can carry. Brimhall's speakers burn with emotional certainty, even though they might not have the means to solve the problems of which they are so painfully aware.
For those of you who are also new to Brimhall's work, you're welcome.
The poem below was previously published in Rookery, Brimhall's first collection (with her permission).
Dueling Sonnets on the Railroad Tracks
Don’t admit anything. Don’t ask your question.
I tasted her sweat on your knuckles, her whispers
in your mouth like secondhand smoke. I’ve wandered
north to the railroad tracks, throwing gravel at the cars.
The small violence comforts me. I never told you
I met a man where honeysuckle withers against
the streetlight. We walked the deserted rail yards,
talking about love and its difficulties without ever
touching each other. But don’t you think I wanted him
to push me against the abandoned cars, rust and friction
bruising my backbone as he tugged at my zipper
with his teeth? Not for the rushed and furious pleasure of it,
but because if I could hurt you now, I could forgive you,
and forgiveness is all that makes love safe.
The summer we met, bull sharks cruised the coastal shelf
at dusk. Thunderstorms startled each afternoon,
bright and unforgiving. We closed the lifeguard stand,
and I held the rafters, and you held my hips,
and we never learned how lightning found the earth.
How did it come to this? The raccoon troubling
the garbage cans. A blooming apple tree sheltering
a nest of dead birds. The train wailing in the distance.
I know I will return home, and we will punish each other
long enough to outlast desire. While you pretend to sleep
I will pack quietly and whisper, Electrons. When the storm
wants to strike, something in the earth rises up.
But you already knew that, didn’t you? You already knew
the tree was the answer to the lightning’s question.
Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Slate, The Believer, Ploughshares, New England Review, and Best American Poetry 2013. She’s received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the King/Chávez/Parks Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.