Last fall saw the publication of Brian Brodeur’s chapbook So The Night Cannot Go On Without Us, winner of the White Eagle Coffee Store Press Poetry Chapbook Contest, and this fall brings a full-fledged collection, Other Latitudes, winner of the of the 2007 Akron Poetry Prize from the University of Akron Press. The new collection gathers and rearranges some of the best pieces from the chapbook and augments them with newer works — all of it giving a wider readership than ever before to Brodeur’s carefully crafted poems, poems both dense with complexity and, simultaneously, wonderfully accessible.
Writing about the new collection, contest judge Stephen Dunn notes: “Brodeur’s world is one of layers and shadings. His diction is limpid and precise, his ear a fine-tuned instrument for registering nuance. And when he writes about nature, he’s equally adept, employing a vocabulary that does what the best nature writing can do: reinvigorate its subject.”
While Dunn gives some specific focus to nature, what thrills me (a non-poet, a fiction writer even) about Brodeur’s works are the more narrative poems. In addition to being a master of words, of the line, of the image, Brodeur can also tell a fine story — deftly crafting interesting, empathetic characters and constructing short scenes that do just what the best plots should do: keep the reader asking, “And then what happened?” even if the final, important movements are sometimes more interior than action-oriented.
Reprinted here from the new collection — with the permission of the author (for full disclosure, a friend of mine) — is just such a poem.
By Brian Brodeur
The whole county heard. Schiappucci and me
found her first out back of the old Shell station
and used a hockey stick to fish her out:
a young Hispanic girl, face up, legs splayed,
her hair threaded with bits of yellow grass.
Stabbed, strangled, raped (and, I heard
in that order), she must’ve drifted all night
to have ended up so far downstream, miles
from Rainbow Terrace, where she’d lived.
When her brothers came, all seven of them,
to I.D. the body, no one, not even the cops,
had tried to move her. Schiappucci said
she worked at the Howard Johnson’s off Quinsig.
He’d seen her — a pretty thing — down Bronzo’s Bar,
Running beers and wings to Keno players.
Days later, dozens of those cheap glass candles
with the Virgin Mary painted on the sides
gathered into a makeshift funeral pyre
spewing wax all over the concrete landing
where they first laid the body out to dry:
tiny flickering points of yellow light
you could see burning for weeks. One night,
I headed out with Schiappucci for a drive
and decided to walk down and have a look.
We found a break in the woods beside the stream,
groped through the dark toward the candlelight
where two women sat in lawn chairs.
Praying with their eyes open, they hunched over
photographs of the girl at different ages,
and tossed flowers into the smoky water.
Schiappucci thought of going down to them.
I thought of the girl’s face the color of wax paper.
How her eyes stared at the sky, as if it mattered.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t say a word
until Schiappucci asked what time it was
and what did we come here for again so late.