Julie Phillips Brown

Second Cut

Second Cut

for Mary Ruefle

Let time run through whatever is not
us, I thought     us, the braided word

I wanted—our compact       a singular rock
untouched by tide      our bank high

against cut of current      hours’ turn
toward other horizons. 

                                      But loss

lives in every felt thing     I touch
my own skin, its spectral flux

of vessels, fat, fascia already
elemental, trembled      without

purchase. Let this churn
be a homing     Let this body hold 

the bodies it becomes    Another cut:

               everything breaks

                                            everything goes


When I was twelve, my grandmother stopped
recognizing her own reflection. I stood

next to her as she searched the glass, eyes
trained in the direction of someone expecting

her own face. But she startled at the unfamiliar
woman there, fringe of silver on her brow, shoulders

rounded by years of cooking, chasing, children, 
mending. I wondered how a body that had held

so much could forget its loves: violets, velvet
on the tongue, the salt air at morning, the shape 

of those children, each one folded like heartwood
in the womb. I imagined then this latest

vacancy as restricted loss, an exceptional un-
knowing. I stood aside and called it beyond.

I let the loss happen, never thinking how
it happened. How it happens. How

now, a woman who looks like my mother,
still sounds like my mother, speaks—

and with a word undoes us. 

                                                Unhomes me.

JULIE PHILLIPS BROWN is a poet, critic, painter, and book artist. Her first book of poems, The Adjacent Possible, won the 2019 Hopper Poetry Prize and will be published by Green Writers Press in 2021. Her poems and essays have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Borderlands, Columbia Poetry Review, Conjunctions, Crab Orchard Review, Denver Quarterly, Empty House Press, Interim, Jacket2, Literary Mama, The Oakland Review, Posit, Plume, Rappahannock Review, Revolute, Tahoma Literary Review, Talisman, Vinyl, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She is currently a Society Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.