Philomela in Idaho: Poetry by Hilary Brown

Every girl here is a nightingale, unbelieved
and weaving songs she cannot sing. 
We receive nothing in the end. An empty
inheritance, a handful of threats.

An empty field after harvest, weeds
burning in the ditch. Air filled with the scent 
and sting of smoke. Almost comfort, 
almost enough. If we are lucky, we leave. 
We are transformed and we find our flight away. 

…

The wilderness was desert, was farmland 
pockmarked with grain elevators, rusted metal, 
rusted out cars, abandoned sheds, barns, the old
school, the old garage, the line of buildings
piled high with old furniture, brick church, 
bonfire, backwoods, back alleys, backyards, 
garages, home.

And silence left no obvious scar. There was
never any proof to hold up, a withered stump
crying offense to the gods, crying offense to
the prophets and protectors and parents. No.
There was just crying in all its fruitlessness.

…

Silence is its own bleak thing. There is no 
metaphor for this. Knuckles scraped on rock
or brick. Leave it as it is. You cannot
bandage it. There is no healing without
the open wound in open air, the damage
there where everyone can see.


…


Good morning windswept dawnlight, farmland
growing more barren, decay, generations who 
have lived here, children who will not stay. 
I would like to write a lovesong to memory. 
I have forgotten the memory for which I would sing. 
It is all lost and gone. It is a hollow thing. 
The roots no longer run that deep.

This is a beautiful land. We have marked it 
and marred it, carved our initials into it, determined
we must not be forgotten. It is still a beautiful land.
Bury me in topsoil. Make me easy carrion. 
Give me away only then, don’t allow
me to be prey.

…

Somewhere the sun is rising in reverse. 
I cannot recognize it without the backdrop
of home, the slope of the mountains far
to the east and far to the west, the slope 
of my neighbor’s roof outside my window. 
In memory, my mother walks to the middle 
of the road, shades her eyes and watches 
the sunset, one hand on her hip.

I would like to write a lovesong 
to the lonely land where I grew, 
to imagine I flew over like a lonely 
bird, like an ordinary bird, to imagine 
I never got lost in these specifics.

…


The air has stilled and is filled with waiting.
Each bird has returned to her nest, each
rabbit to his burrow. We are instinctual, filled
with hiding. We know the sound of thunder
before it rumbles in our ears, the flash of lightning
before it fills our vision. Have you seen panic
in the eye of a horse? The rolling reveal of white?
The tremble and tense of muscle? The danger
is there at the base and the height of fear.

We are not taught that fear, neither the paired
sorrow, but we have learned. Every mile
on this highway is an ode to the evening news,
and it has been bad news for months. 
We drive on.
Hilary Brown

Hilary Brown is a pushcart-nominated poet and queer disability activist living in Chicago. Their collection, When She Woke She Was an Open Field (2017), is available from Headmistress Press. Other work can be found or is forthcoming in Queerly, APT, A Disabled Women's Reader, and the South Carolina Review.

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