brandon courtney /REPATRIATION & TESTIMONY

Image by Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn.


Wrapped in burial blues, a uniform
meant for winter, the few medals

he’s earned pinned to wool,
invisible, his corpse is crushed

like October leaves inside a body
bag that reeks of burning tires,

rustles like tracing paper. Soon,
his body will teach soil how to be silent.

I touch the long heaven
of his casket, touch its lid the way

wind leeches speech from spruce
trees. I clench my teeth:

a snow that will not melt. Twice I say
his name, twice I say I’m sorry,

speaking into the coffin’s wood grain
as if into the auricles of his ear.


Six feet underwater, the depth of every grave,
my mind no longer separates up from down,
rise or fall: heaven’s just another place—

if heaven is a length—between adjacent waves.
Should I name the blue that’s over me a crown?
Six feet underwater, the depth of every grave,

should I swallow all this sea, praise
its unlit symmetry, drain my lungs and drown?
Rise or fall, heaven’s just another place

to bury effigies of men you couldn’t save.
Christ, how many dead can one sky hold? Drown
me six feet underwater like the depth of every grave,

and preserve me as the golden wasp that paves
itself in amber. Preserve me in a sound,
its rise, its fall. Heaven’s just another place,

if heaven is at all, for the drowned to pollinate
their breath into the clouds, salt into the ground.
Six feet underwater is the depth of every grave,
and, if I rise or if I fall, heaven’s not a place.

Brandon Courtney is a veteran of the United States Navy, and the author of The Grief Muscles (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2014) and Rooms for Rent in the Burning City (Spark Wheel Press, 2015), as well as the chapbook, Inadequate Grave (YesYes Bøøks, 2016). YesYes Bøøks will publish a full-length collection in 2017-18. He has received fellowships and scholarships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Colgate University, Juniper Summer Writers’ Institute, and Seaside Writers’ Conference. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2009, Tin House, Boston Review, Guernica, Memorious, The Progressive, and American Literary Review.