Conor Bracken

Elegy for oradour-sur-glane


The town rises like a welt on the windshield,

the windshield whipped by sun.


Hello summer, nice to be inside your fist.

Hello, Oradour, nice to meet you


and the 657 people, gunned down

or burned to death inside a church.


Why come here, I wonder, as my father

slams the van door, says “we’re here


for some perspective. To pay respects,”

as he strides off, flagpole-spined,


the big united family following.

You go where death still lives


to remember you do too: live

where others haven’t, breathe


where they were choked on smoke,

watching black ropes snare the stars.


Compassion is being aghast

at how beautiful the windows are,


still scarred with a crown of soot.

Empathy is feeling horror at a ditch


in which someone once was machinegunned

and now is woozy with daisies.

Elegy for a classmate


When finally I am tired

of building this town

I’ve designed to address you,

I gather tinder and kindling

and build a house for fire

the fire will joyously destroy.


The only way to talk to the dead

is through your pillow,

ear pressed like a flower

into the novella of feathers

plucked from the promise of escape

each bird is hollowed with.


But first you need a bed

and a window to stand sleepless at,

a neighbor to watch perform

solitary midnight ablutions

and three choice elms to obscure them,

streetlights to accuse your voyeurism


and a clocktower to peel away the hour

you are hiding inside.

So I am building.

Felling trees, mixing concrete,

planing slender splinters

from sap-thick heartwood.


And when I’m tired I stand at the verge,

warming my feet by the fire’s falling house,

gazing absentmindedly at the wilderness

I will wrest a final order out of.

I praise it, as a destroyer must,

because inside it I see a better life


the way we see a hero inside someone

too marked by horror to touch.

The wilderness never replies

even though its darkness, like yours,

needs me. Needs a whole town

to stand outside of, knocking.


Conor Bracken's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Handsome, Harpur Palate, Heavy Feather Review, Lungfull, the minnesota review, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Squaw Valley writer's conference and Inprint and was a finalist in the Mudfish Poetry Contest in 2013. Originally from Virginia, he's taught English in France, tested software in Argentina, and is pursuing his MFA at the University of Houston where he is a poetry editor for Gulf Coast.