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.