Leah Browning
Leah Browning
Poetry — Samples
IN THE CHAIR MUSEUM

by Leah Browning


On Christmas Day, we drove north
to spend the afternoon with friends.  

I was homesick for New Mexico
and brought biscochitos in the shape of stars.

We all walked to Montara State Beach
where it was cold and windy and beautiful

and watched the sun set like a piece of golden glass
over the ocean.  I couldn’t believe it was truly

December.  On the way back to the house
I held his little mitten in my gloved hand.  

He was getting older and it felt like the last time
this might happen, like I needed to remember it.

We took the longest route and stopped to look
at strings of Christmas lights in the front yards.

By the time we returned, the men had built
a fire in a metal bowl on the back porch.

Later, after dinner, I looked through a book
with one of the boys, a very thick book about chairs.  

He sat close to me on the couch and I wanted time
to stop for a moment so we could go on forever

turning page after page of glossy color photographs
of all the different colors and types of chairs.

Christmas ended, and New Year’s.  The book dissolved,
all of it did, as though it had never happened.  

A few months later, I dreamed that I was a doll,
walking on my little legs through the chair museum.  

Next door was the table museum, and on the other side
of it was the spoon museum, and so on.  You get the idea.      

The chairs in my museum were very large,
and I felt so small as I walked between them.

I wasn’t sure why I was there, or what I was supposed to be
learning, but I knew that I had to be there for a reason.

So all night, I walked around in my little stockings and
my little black felt slippers with the straps across the tops.

All night, I walked around and around the museum,
peeking up at chairs through my little glass eyes,

certain that all of the answers were right there in front of me  
if only I knew where to look.  


"In the Chair Museum"
Copyright © 2012 by Leah Browning
First published in
Eunoia Review (November 14, 2013), www.eunoiareview.wordpress.com.
Reprinted in
In the Chair Museum by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press,
2013).  Reprinted in
The Wardrobe's “Best Dressed” feature (April 28-May 2, 2014),
sundresspublications.wordpress.com.







ANY DAY NOW

by Leah Browning


The test results are due back
any day now.

Life is like a mouse,
sniffing around me,

and I am a doll,
on the floor on my side,

lying where someone
has flung me.

At some point
the telephone will ring

and the wooden hinge
of my arm

will bend in its direction,
but I will let it go on ringing

for a moment
with that face at my neck

because I want to remember
at least once more

the scent of the lemon tree
in the back yard

and the view of the shoreline
on a windy day  

and everything else
I’ve ever seen

in this world, which is so frightening
and wondrous


"Any Day Now"
Copyright © 2012 by Leah Browning
First published in
Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Issue 4 (June 2013),
www.dressingroompoetryjournal.com.  Reprinted in
In the Chair Museum by Leah Browning
(Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press, 2013).  Reprinted with an audio recording by Leah
Browning, The Poetry Storehouse (June 7, 2014), poetrystorehouse.com.  Reprinted on a
printable broadside with original artwork by Sarah Browning.     







ALMOST A YEAR AFTER HIS SUICIDE

by Leah Browning


After a glass of wine, it no longer seems possible
that he’s dead.  You weren’t close, toward the end
of his life, and it’s been months since he has floated
into your thoughts, unbidden, out of the blue.  

Now, sitting on the back porch,
you can remember every line
of his last letter.  He had sounded at peace
then, just a few short weeks before.

The wisteria is in bloom, with its thick,
fragrant bunches of lavender flowers,
and the lemon tree is heavy with fruit.
At sunset, the dead seem close by,

present, lingering in your peripheral vision.  
And for a moment, in the golden light,
this has to be heaven, because how could anyone
truly be dead, here amidst so much beauty?      


"Almost a Year After His Suicide"
Copyright © 2012 by Leah Browning
First published in
In the Chair Museum by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press,
2013).  Reprinted with an audio recording by Leah Browning, The Poetry Storehouse (June
7, 2014), poetrystorehouse.com.  A short film by Paul Broderick, featuring the song "She
Dreams in Blue" by Josh Woodward and the poem "Almost a Year After His Suicide" by
Leah Browning, is available on
Vimeo.  







DAMAGE

by Leah Browning


One has to question the logic of a swing set
embedded in a slab of asphalt
on the playground of an elementary school.  

Those coltish legs slanted at an angle,
the dark smile of each seat hanging from chains,
but it was the 1970s all plaid slacks

and big collars and we didn’t think about safety
then, in those years before AIDS and baby
car seats.  It was still cool to smoke and sunbathe,

and I never had to wear a bike helmet
or travel en masse because the weirdo
in the white van who stopped me

on my way to school and asked if I’d seen his dog
and would I get in and help him look for it
was an anomaly, and we didn’t lock

our front door or worry about picking up
a woman stranded by the side of the road
with her car because nobody had a cell phone

and looking back my god it’s a wonder we
didn’t all die; it’s a wonder anyone survived
with all the lead paint and raw cookie dough.

So I never thought twice about the bed of asphalt
waiting for Jason Jackson’s warm head
as he stood on the swing and pushed as hard

as he could with his legs.  That swing set
is gone now, and the spinning death trap
we used to fall off of and even the teeter-totters,

with their pale splintered wood, but they were still
there then.  And Jason didn’t die, just cracked
his head open on the asphalt and had to go

to the hospital in an ambulance and get stitches.
Every day from then on his father went to work
a little later because he walked him to school

carrying Jason’s little sister on his shoulders
in a fog of cigarette smoke, and all three of them smiling
as if it were the victory march.  


"Damage"
Copyright © 2007 by Leah Browning
First published in
Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 114, No. 3 (Fall 2007), pp. 472-473.  
Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL:
Dancing Girl Press, 2010), pp. 7-8.







PICKING CHERRIES IN THE ESPAÑOLA VALLEY

by Leah Browning


Our mother’s friend invites us out to her house for the day.  
Her orchards are bursting with ripe fruit, apples and cherries,
and she sends my sister and me outside with baskets
on our arms.  We wander up and down the rows of trees
picking fruit from low branches, and my sister’s basket
grows heavy while mine swings loose and empty from my arm.  
I prefer eating cherry after cherry, twisting the stems
around my fingers like rings, and daydreaming.    

In the afternoon I retreat to the house and sit near
my mother’s friend on the cool stone of the fireplace.  
I drink a glass of water and tell her my favorite fantasy:
a pet monkey I imagine loving like my own child.  

To my surprise, she tells me that once, briefly,
as a girl about my age, she had a pet monkey of her own.
But her version is far less romantic than the one I have
invented.  There is no white lace dress, no black leather boots,
no (don’t laugh) no talking.  Her monkey speaks little English
and, apparently, eschews all clothing, even lace and leather.   

In her story, the monkey chases the little girl, pelting her
with oranges.  There is no hard-won connection, no happy ending.  
And I can’t help feeling disappointed: betrayed by real life
with its plainness and rough edges, and by this beloved animal,
so free of frills and unsuited for domestic life.  

The woman returns to her canning, and I run back out
to the orchard, unable to escape this fierce new monkey,
who chases me down toward the apple trees
on her rough, scabbed legs, both of us already hearing the knock
of fruit against flesh.   


"Picking Cherries in the Española Valley"
Copyright © 2004-2006 by Leah Browning
First published in
Salome Magazine (January 22, 2007), www.salomemagazine.com.  
Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL:
Dancing Girl Press, 2010), p. 17.







COTTAGE

by Leah Browning


It reminds me of the first house, the one with seven roommates
who all played in a band, and your room behind a silk batik curtain.  

The door was always open to let the cat in and out of the yard,
and one of the roommates got high and started to vacuum

while we sat on the couch with our parents.  You were about to
graduate from college.  I was in the middle of a cross-country

move and pregnant, or about to become pregnant.  We were all in
flux then, flowing toward the people we were going to be

and also death, but that seemed so far away on the summer day
I am describing.  This cottage is much smaller, surrounded by trees

and further on, a creek; the bandmates have taken their drum kits
and guitars and moved on, and we are alone here now.  

You stand on the porch with your easel and paint me
walking amongst the crocuses and irises and phlox

with the black cat and her kittens, who go on roaming the forest
without concern, knowing that our door will always be open.  


"Cottage"
Copyright © 2008 by Leah Browning
First appeared with a photograph by Grace Cavalieri for the Public Lives/Private Lives:
Photo Voyeurism mixed media project from the PEN American Center, April 2008.  
Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL:
Dancing Girl Press, 2010), p. 30.  Reprinted with an audio recording by Leah Browning,
The Poetry Storehouse (June 7, 2014), poetrystorehouse.com.







APRIL IN MINNESOTA

by Leah Browning


The edges of my anger
have been sanded down;
we no longer bump against them
each time we turn
in these crowded rooms.  
It’s been months since I woke
to thoughts of suicide

(however distant and ill-formed)
and I have stopped blaming you
if the sky is too blue
or not blue enough.

We are hopeful, yet tentative
with each other after these long
winter months, wary of unfinished
corners that might still threaten
to rage forward and split us
when we are already bloodied and raw.

Our neighbor spends each weekend
outdoors now, pushing a mower
past one wall of our house.  Inside
his garage, the tools are neatly ordered
on the shelves, every rake and shovel
hanging on its own hook.  

Monday comes again.  
I wake fearful, not remembering
that the sharp edges of my shoulders
have been rounded,
the clumps of my fists
smoothed into fingers.  
Outside our kitchen window,
the sun’s anemic early light
falls on grass so green and perfect
that it looks like the set of a play.  

All the house is silent,
waiting for my entrance.         


"April in Minnesota"
Copyright © 2003 by Leah Browning
First published in
Lily: A Monthly Online Literary Review, Vol. 4, Issue 2
(January 2007), www.lilylitreview.com.  Reprinted in
Making Love to the Same Man for
Fifteen Years
by Leah Browning (Newton, MA: Big Table Publishing, 2009), pp. 16-17.







REFRAIN

by Leah Browning


Every evening now I serve you butter chicken
all cream and cardamom on a bed of jasmine rice
with a bottle of Black Sheep Ale imported from England
and later we make love with the lights turned off
for the first time in almost a month
and I don’t know what any of this means
the night that clicks down like a worn but well-loved record
from a happier time even as we sit at the table
with cloth napkins in our laps and warm food
in our mouths that don’t remember how to speak   
or how to say goodbye.   


"Refrain"
Copyright © 2008 by Leah Browning
First published in
The Literary Bohemian, Issue 4 (April 2009), www.literarybohemian.com.  
Reprinted in
Making Love to the Same Man for Fifteen Years by Leah Browning (Newton,
MA: Big Table Publishing, 2009), p. 18.







VALENTINE’S DAY, AND WE ARE STILL SEPARATED

by Leah Browning


After work, I follow as she does
the shopping.  I see that you still love
shrimp, and a plain green salad.

At the dry cleaner’s, her silky blue
dress has been inserted between
the black and navy shoulders of your suits.

She has a red Honda Civic, and I see myself
throwing rocks through the windshield,
or using her own car to run her down

as she emerges from the bakery with a heart-
shaped cake sculpted out of chocolate,
your favorite.

Instead, I go back to my new apartment on the lake
and watch two birds steady each other on the ice,
looking for grasses, while you drink red wine
and carry her to bed.


"Valentine's Day, and We Are Still Separated"
Copyright © 2001 by Leah Browning
First published in
St. Cloud Unabridged, Vol. 7, No. 10 (June 2003), p. 9.  Reprinted in
Making Love to the Same Man for Fifteen Years by Leah Browning (Newton, MA: Big Table
Publishing, 2009), p. 20.







INSTINCTS

by Leah Browning

            
  Squirrels don’t have to learn how to hide the nuts
       they gather. . . .  
              Even squirrels raised in cages have these instincts.  
       The first time they’re given nuts, they try to dig holes in
       the bottom of their cages.  Then they shove the nuts into
       the imaginary holes and work their paws around as if
       they’re covering the nuts with soil or leaves.  
                                      —Diane Swanson,
                                          
Welcome to the World of Squirrels     


Tree squirrels are helpless
at birth, just hairless pink bodies
the size of a woman’s thumb,
eyes and ears sealed shut,
all huddled together for warmth
on this quilt of leaves and moss.

Yet somehow they know how
to find their mother, to nurse;
they grow a faint layer of fur
and blink in the sunlight.    
Within a few months, they can leave
the nest behind: they’ve learned  

how to groom themselves
and search for solid food
and later have babies of their own.    
They wear matching gold bands
and move to the suburbs,
buy a big house with a

finished basement and a 30-year
fixed-rate mortgage and a membership
to the community pool,
but sometimes their grown daughter
will still sneak downstairs
in the middle of the night

while her babies are snug in their
matching cribs and flannel sleepers with feet,  
their bellies full of formula, her head full of
grocery lists and news stories and bank statements,   
and try to dig her way out of the cold
and the concrete to reach the forest floor.  


"Instincts"
Copyright © 2007 by Leah Browning
First published in
Queen’s Feminist Review, Vol. 17 (2009), p. 14.  Reprinted in Making
Love to the Same Man for Fifteen Years
by Leah Browning (Newton, MA: Big Table
Publishing, 2009), pp. 12-13.  Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by
Leah Browning (Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press, 2010), pp. 10-11.







LEARNING TO PLAY PIANO AT THIRTY

by Leah Browning


Everywhere I lay my hands
I hear music.  Each touch
on the computer keyboard,

my fingers drumming
scales on the bedside table
as I’m falling asleep.

I feel my brain unfolding,
gently, like a silk scarf.  
I learn to play with two

hands, in minor keys, with feeling.  
Alone in my room, I write
a sonata, then an opera.  

The house begins to flood,
seams bursting, notes
trickling down the walls.  

You still haven’t come back,
so I have to do the rescuing myself,
using the piano bench as a raft.  


"Learning to Play Piano at Thirty"
Copyright © 2007 by Leah Browning
First published on postcards from the program Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, 2007/2008.  
Reprinted in
Making Love to the Same Man for Fifteen Years by Leah Browning (Newton,
MA: Big Table Publishing, 2009), p. 25.  Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española
Valley
by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press, 2010), p. 18.  Reprinted with an
audio recording by Leah Browning, The Poetry Storehouse (June 7, 2014),
poetrystorehouse.com.







UNDER CONSTRUCTION

by Leah Browning


On the way back from Alamosa I tell you
that I want four children.  The radio is playing,
and our hands touch in the dark.  

Already this feels like a memory,
too weighted for a simple Sunday night.
Snow falls onto the beams

of the headlights, but inside the car
the air even smells warm, and I have to
unbutton my coat.  “Remember the time

I lent you my sweater?” you say,
making our history up to this point
sound rich and expansive

though there is little more than
the sweater and a plastic bowl
melted on the front burner of your stove

while I stirred brownie batter.  “I remember,”  
I say.  The ground under our feet is untested,
but still we feel the desire to build.  



"Under Construction"
Copyright © 2005 by Leah Browning
First published in
Blood Orange Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (October 2006),
www.bloodorangereview.com.  A slightly different version was reprinted on a broadside
from Broadsided Press (June 1, 2008), www.broadsidedpress.org.  Reprinted in
Making Love
to the Same Man for Fifteen Years
by Leah Browning (Newton, MA: Big Table Publishing,
2009), p. 2.  Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by Leah Browning
(Chicago, IL: Dancing Girl Press, 2010), p. 4.







THE PATCHWORK POEM

by Leah Browning


Skin scrubbed clean and glowing
after a shower, the scent of shampoo.

Lying in bed on a winter morning
with the baby asleep between us.

Our fingers pressed together
in the dark of a movie theater.

The sound of laughter.  Always,
the sound of laughter.  

Walking downtown
and back home again.

Night by the river.
What you said, what I said.

I’ll bind these things together,
trim the loose threads, work until

the separate pieces
form one piece—skin-soft,

yet durable, too, because
I mean it to last you forever.


"The Patchwork Poem"
Copyright © 2004 by Leah Browning
First published in
Poetry & Company: A Kingston Community Anthology, edited by Diane
Dawber (Ontario: Hidden Brook Press, 2007), p. 3.  Reprinted in
Making Love to the Same
Man for Fifteen Years
by Leah Browning (Newton, MA: Big Table Publishing, 2009), p. 32.  
Reprinted in
Picking Cherries in the Española Valley by Leah Browning (Chicago, IL:
Dancing Girl Press, 2010), p. 26.