Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Brian Teare : Finalist, 2003

Begin, Beware---

Begin, Beware---



Begin sinister. Sincerity like a fairy tale, some treacle
             laced fatal with arsenic's false almond, but begin. Yes, tell us
                  Once there was a boy who loved a story so much he walked through the page,

tell us how There was white, rooms incendiary without shadow,
             and even if you ask How can you understand how it was, the others
                           calling him back, even if you give us How the simple loop of O was a noose

ready to choke, I a knife that splits, don't think we don't
             know already. Here, memory's every Once & Once & Once
                               we ever heard---time's upon itself until the self's a strange,

a second person. Ruthless : museless : first person's worst
               inversion, a witch isn't bitch enough to do you justice.
                               When you tell us His lips were perfect of diction, how, Outside,

the words sat black like birds, hooked beak and claw deep in glass,
               all along we've known On the other side the other child waited,
                               the bad brother, how The others sent him to fetch the boy back.

And when he says, "Dear Brother come, you've lost your name;
               you must be cold without it,"
tell us everything the bad one
                               wants, spare us nothing we don't already know, tell us

and your voice will alter with telling, gnarl and knot
               like bark : beware : a scar's the shape a song takes;
                               any such singing leaves its mark. Yes, it's true The boy knew a name

is the largest bird, eyes cut cruel as obsidian, knew a name is hungry,
               a carrion keeper, but you will anyway, won't you, croon
                               the catastrophic lyric, cream it, diva the infernal tessituras,

because it's aria, it's yours, opera written for the burning
               stage, & ah---you have to : this pit's literal. This is Hell :
                               a tale's told & here remains forever. As if a teller's guilt

weren't punishment enough, when the bad one whispers,
               "Don't pretend you've forgotten how we slept tight as spoons, our skin
                               fit over the bones of our name,"
when he says, "You must be hungry;

please, step closer : I've something for you," implore us, Oh Reader,
               a plum, and give us Its color deep as the throat's hum and plush, show us
                               how His hand reached through the glass---and beware. We suffer forever

how our stories begin---

---In the Library of the Fairy Tale,


                                                                             there's one the folklorists
catalog under the key-word brothers. In the Thematic Index

of Folk-Lore & Fairy Tale---the limbo where stories go---
the scholar's virtuosity is compression : figuration, essence,

all the blood and doves of Schwarzwald gone. No raconteur
could stand it---extra-ordinary companions are b.; disenchantment

by sewing shirt for enchanted b.; magic object stolen by b.; b. having
extra-ordinary skill---all the etceteras & excesses of oral tradition

pared to suggestion, fragment. You thought you might not
find your story after all in the Teller's Book, the entries sick

with benignities, all the awful plucky brothers playing nice-
nice, the blackbirds let loose from their blackbird pies…

But in someone's hand the wicked history is recorded---
b. chosen rather than husband; lecherous b.---perhaps an Archivist

of Harm, Indexer of Punishable Husbandry (old Latin story,
incestus, "impure" : kiss stanched black as bad teeth, thrill

a vermilion risen at the root of the mouth, nervy as rills
& licks
                              mockingbirds sing
                                            as shadows swing
                              beneath the meat
                                             in the gallows---tree),

                                                                                          & in what untraveled
backwater did he first hear the tale? In what sticky kitchen did he

listen as an old bachelor smoked, told the one that begins Once
upon a time, a brother loved his brother,
the sorrow of all beginning :

impossible for a scholar to ascribe origin or author; no matter
how he came to learn it, the teller can only say, Sir, it's always been
                                                                                                                                         a borrowed song.

---The Milk-Father


Once a young husband for a year grew restless
beside his wife & each night he left their bed
no one could say where he went. & when did it

begin, children saying a wolf without howl lived
in the wood, midnight bade stolen boys drink
from a row of swollen, hairless teats? Boys grow old

fast in these parts, mothers said, and witness-
less, the man famished the mouths of cradles,
milktooth and fatherbreast, false beast he took

the boys to him & together bred a fable. Perhaps
he envied what light hit upon their sleeping; maybe
he thought a bodiless love best, unskinned

& sinless wanted to thin & glimmer like a god,
to danae and ganymede the boys with gilt & gold;
& o to finally gift with light the walls of his own

boy's room---the sorrow of all beginning---
& by which midnight gibbous did his pulse
well up, his mind struggle, tug a crucial remove

from image the way fresh milk's skimmed of skin :


to see his boy lit up like that, cock's curve of warm
carved wax, ah---white, white, to leave himself

to that candor, that motherless suckling : what milk
there was was stanch, was salt, perhaps was love
after all, if the boy had believed a god above him, if

a man could live with a vision, divinity, & also touch it.
Hereafter, the story solely hearsay---by his own hand
his own boy hurt, dead & buried in the wood. Soon

rumor followed (suicide) & their double ghosts forever
kept confined to pine forest : sad, uncanny boy shadowed
by a dog he fears. This was a county in Alabama where

all your life a dead boy slept among the pines, unbroken
miles where older boys built lean---tos; come summer
Sundays, they'd stash porn mags, jack---off into yellowy rags.

Outside, your older brother's among their guns, parallel
barrels leaned into slant light : you were a body unnumbered
among them, unoriginal gunmetal, safety still ever-latched.

Afternoons, self unsignifying, you gathered the burst
blue bouquets of jays the boys left miles behind, buried
the rusted buckshot of their eyes, though the lice stunned

among blood & spine & split quills terrified as evening crept
down from the trees & the forest thickened its apparitions :
licks of white skin flickered between far-off branches, strips

lit up shirtless, fluorescent, silent as boys slipped quick between trunks in black pantomime of catch-as-catch-can : oldest
among them, your brother, not a boy at all, shouldered his gun

like a hunter looking to hurry you home---to him kneeling
outside the bathroom door, whispering outside the bedroom
door, all the locks you turn not keeping his voice outside, all

the doors you lock not keeping him from picking the locks, him
kneeling beside the bed & not keeping his voice outside you
kneeling not keeping his body outside you so that somewhere

you're a child forever closing a door, a child forever turning
a lock---& down beneath kudzu you dug & hid & god willing
even god would never find you : all your life the dead boy

meanwhile slept : evidence : it was said among them in those parts
                              a child can know too much : can die.


                                                                      [ Floating Poem


The Dead Boy to the Scholars
                            in the Library of the Fairy Tale :

                            "At the edge of the glade
                                         where flanks of felled deer fade,

                            there I lie, defy description, lush
                                         dun, antique sepia, husk, my tongue

                            the cusp of damage vanishing,
                                         & I would touch now nothing

                            but you, evidence as I am
                                         of imagination's end in the flesh.

                            You will have to sing. Paper
                                         won't hold the wound I leave---" ]





---The Tutelary Forest

Dear Reader :

                             Like a child beware & enter here beneath what branches, what waits, what watches : in the Library of the Fairy Tale a book opens to a story many more brave than you have entered, & you are in it, you are here to learn, to die, & this is how a witch gets business.

                             Even though the Good Woodsman cuts the heart from a boor instead, even though to the Queen he brings it still hot in a mahogany box, she asked for yours. Any path leads to the Wolf, the Witch, the house or cottage where what waits is patient & sharp. Already, the Wolf wears the Old Woman's nightgown---his teeth white as the insides of the whitest thighs, ah---that is what paths are for, & patience.

                             Bracken, bramble, thorn, thin scratched skin, this is Schwarzwald, a drop of blood enough to scent the wind : the Queen knows her rival isn't dead. Thrice before you sleep a hundred years, bearing gifts she knocks at the cottage door : poor universal virgin, you eat the apple & sleep; prick your finger & sleep; & of luck we shall not speak because you can't fuck just anyone---"It's meant to be!" the Lucky Prince says when he stumbles upon the hothouse box, glass coffin your early bloom burns inside.

                             Begin, beware, will nothing save you? : in search of a place to sleep, you discover the cottage where you lie down between the white thighs of teeth & so deeply no Good Woodsman can find you. In search of sleep?---a comb, a corset, an apple. Of sleep you discover the enchanted house, & the Witch, what she does best : hungrily. Either your life's her tithe, or there's a catch : a curse, a choice : before you answer,

                             remember : She would have your heart out, & eat it too. As deep calls to deep, she asked for it by name.

---In the Library of the Fairy Tale,

                                       they would be stupid children who asked why
                                       their parents have left them in the forest, why

                                       their mothers hate them, their fathers haunt
                                       their bedsteads. Here, no one in danger waits

                                       for salvation. Here, what hungers is lovely
                                       cruel, is gore & gorgeous & godless. It knows

                                       spots quickest to goad blood to bruise,
                                       the gasp & spasm & green of smothering.

                                       How good it is, how easy, in the forest,
                                       where you know what waits for you

                                       adores the horror & minutiae : small bones
                                       shattered, the slim rim of the iris in dilation.

                                       How good, too, to know the story will forgive
                                       you should you kill first, as when the child

                                       goads the Witch over the trick lip of hunger
                                       into the furnace of her own voice & is right

                                       to do so---how good!, how easy to act
                                       when you know your actions will be right.

                                       It was your doubt made your brother lucky :
                                       you would have preferred to destroy him.

---The Aviary Hour


In memory, in the fairy tales read to you before bedtime, sleep
slowly creeps into every story though rosebushes fan & flare
powdery matchsticks around the tower where even sleep's

sleeping & only a man can bless the ending---a kiss---& begin
again :
                             In memory, the fairy tale of bedtimes, the air
of the house you dreamt in drew beneath itself its thousand

black wings & shivered, brief scintillas of its million quills brilliant.
Amid feathery livery, the Prince of the aviary glistened : beak, claw,
wing & jaw---weaponry---the air his parliament, his imagination---

blackbird, jackdaw, rook & crow---jury & jurisdiction of his law
& him impotent still amid it all : your mouth his one sure dream
of sleep. There was no tale in which it had appeared, porcelain

thin---lipped sugar---bowl, a rose at the bottom : your tongue the petal
placed to sweeten the prize. There was no prior pattern to prepare
you : the stricken Prince didn't travel far from his Kingdom; fulfilled

no impossible tasks to gauge his worth; overcame no obstacles
to arrive black famine at the garden of your sleep, O child, listen :
begin again :
                             In memory, in the fairy tale of the wedding bed,

outside the chamber where even sleep was sleeping, feathers gathered
in a crush of air---it was the nightmare of the Aviary Hour, clockless
abyss where time was a song kept choked in the throats of carrion

birds. There were no witnesses, the others dreaming in the sleep
you all slept : curse of Fathers, of Mothers : family a locked cage
of relation, children bred beneath a pestilent heaven. Your souls'

malaise of stars wept pin---holes of light in an orrery under glass.
In memory, the Aviary Hour, the Prince knelt like any husband
outside the door, like any entitled by law turned the knob, entered

you : once & once & once he put himself inside you until it was dying
to be a body & still it didn't end : a kiss & the birds that were metaphors
undressed themselves & stepped pale from vast black nacre raiments

& were boys, white skin flickering shirtless between branches catch-
as-catch-can, the forest forever this time because at last he'd come
back, shouldering his gun like a Father---Look,
                                                                                                dead boy, did you think

he'd forget you? This is Hell. A tale's told & here remains forever kept
confined to pine forest : listen : down beneath kudzu you dug & hid & god
willing it was the end & still it didn't : this is how death became the body

of a man : down in the dirt his own boy hurt : he buried him inside you
& turned the earth so you couldn't even choose let it end god be done
with me : the butt of his gun come down the one sure mercy you could see.