Nickole Brown is the author of Sister, published by Red Hen in September 2007. She graduated from the M.F.A. Program for Creative Writing at Vermont College. She has received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. She studied English Literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. Her work has been featured in The Writer's Chronicle, Poets & Writers, 32 Poems, The Cortland Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Diagram Magazine, Another Chicago Magazine, Mammoth Books' Sudden Stories anthology, and Starcherone Press anthology PP / FF. She also co-edited the anthology, Air Fare: Stories, Poems, & Essays on Flight. She has served as the National Publicity Consultant for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival and as the Program Coordinator for the Union Institute & University writing residency in Slovenia. Nickole has worked at Louisville's nonprofit, independent, literary press, Sarabande Books for eight years.


Three Poems by Nickole Brown


Footling

We have heard her tell the story
over and again, like this: an early spring
tornado, a still, yellow sky,
nuns who said must have felt better
going in than it does
coming out
as they gave her
a hot compress and dimmed the lights
for pain.

She was half my age now, sweet
sixteen and barely healed
when God smacked half the trees
flat and she curled down
under a mattress
in an empty bathtub
in an empty apartment,
a newborn suckling
the tips of her fingers. The porcelain,
cool white womb, had a drain

ready to carry anything
it could swallow to the swollen
brown Ohio, and though the tub
was dry, she used her heel
to flip the drain open, asking
the river to take it, all of it,
especially that moment the month before
when she didn't know better

but to sit up and grab the slippery blue
feet first, an impossible breech, a twist
with a snap that meant
leg braces, special shoes, a grown woman
who would never walk right
in red heels. Frightened in this storm,
she wanted the tender word

birth but knew better now. Birth
meant forceps, rips, umbilical cords
wrapped around the neck. Birth kneaded
the abdomen for more birth, recovered
with douche singed with a drop or two of Lysol,
boiled a set of glass baby bottles in the same
pot that made the pinto beans. Not much more
to hold and so she touched
the blue leg of her bruised baby, cooed
footling, thinking it sounded
more like the name of some imp
than a complication, footling, her shape-shifter
sleeping inside the cup of a trumpet vine,

footling, because she was so young
and who could blame her, dreaming
away and waiting while wind
tore the silk of clouds to shreds,
plucked off pieces of home,
peeled shingles back from rooftops
one by one.


How She Conceived

I.

Count nine months back.
Find June,

find the foxfire summer,
find mama's fifteenth year,
a dark undergrowth
of fern and fertile knots of water
moccasin down at the creek,
high, green, and indifferent

to the trying of her new
softness in a concrete slick
basement where cave crickets
fiddled in the moldy dark,
or on a rooftop where shingles
gripped her, black grit catch
on her tender bare-

anyplace where nobody could hear,
nobody could catch her,
nobody could switch her ass on home.

Or better, because you know her
well as I do-giggling, cigarette sneak,
mini-skirt-hike girl she was-
where somebody could hear,
or barely hear: a custodial closet, knocking
splash of mop water running gray,
a velvet movie seat, hinges up
and creaking, or my choice:

an empty baptismal font
hidden behind stained glass,
strong sun spilling
blue and red and orange and
blue across my daddy's back
and one praying pink
hat in the front pew, God love her,
fanning with a folded program,
old clip-on pearls
deaf to their kissing sighs,

oh, the hot repentant air.


II.

And you, sister? You know. Done
respectably. Ten years later, in a bed.
Soft moaning, flat-backed, missionary,
a warm rag and a glass of water to follow.

Imagine bright rods of moonlight
cutting through blinds to stripe
his back, and her pillow cool to the touch,
flipped after a nightmare to try to put her
back to sleep.

Her panties are folded and cotton,
his pinkest skin smells of soap,
an amber stereo light shadows simple,
familiar things: his watch, wallet, mess of change,
her earrings, bracelets, discarded blouse,
a dog stretched unbothered,
dreaming at their feet.

There is a fan too, the spinning
set on low, and after she stares at the burst of blades
until they disappear, blinks her eyes
to strobe them back again.

Later they know you are coming
through ten-dollar home tests,
one line going one way and
another line going the other.


1979

That year was the cyanide hiding
in the stone of a peach. Look, how yellow
the photographs, a nicotine sheen
on our happy days, a disease roiling
out of the Congo to lay flat the tender
men before I learned to spell
their names. Eric, for example,

Erique, with that surprise ending
to match his frosted tips, or Chris, now
Chryss, his name changed from a Bible school
salute to something that rang like a wet finger
rimming a genuine crystal glass. They came

from the casserole-fed dredge of Kentucky
to click and sashay through the salon
where mama doused perm solution on old gray
and I sorted yellow rods from pink,
where mama cut a wet ridge held between
pointer and middle and I swept it up,
where mama waxed her own eyebrows
clear out of existence and I pushed
pins into a Styrofoam wig head, always

terrified she might change
her hair so much she'd be
unrecognizable, impossible to find in the dizzy
spin of racks at the mall. That was when
the shop was filled with nothing more than disco tunes
and (if ever was such a thing) simple childhood
fears. It was another year before
she got herself a diamond and dropped
her scissors in the neon blue for good, leaving

right before the wake of purple sores,
all those men I adored abandoning
their hard-ons through the holes of walls,
the vending machines of fruit-flavored lube
emptied in filthy gas station stalls, the hub cap
chained to the key reflecting
a future tasting of either latex or
death. But I swear to you-when Chryss

sat mama down to dye her
hair and I began to cry, he quit,
put the bottle down. And Erique, he
scooped me up on his fat lap, said girl,
wild horses wouldn't drive that crazy mama
from you. Besides, I promise we'll
keep that bombshell
blonde
. I pressed into his body-
he was soft bruised fruit-
and I was blessed to ever know
a man's flesh could feel sun
warm, smell peach sweet.