Joel Brouwer’s Centuries

The following four prose poems, “Vodka,” “Serena,” “Detroit,” and “Mexico,” were originally published in Centuries (c) 2003 by Joel Brouwer. Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.


The Stoli bottle’s frost melts to brilliance where I press my fingers. Evidence. Proof I’m here, drunk in your lamplit kitchen, breathing up your rented air, no intention of leaving. Our lust squats blunt as a brick on the table between us. We’re low on vocabulary. We’re vodkaquiet. Vodkdeliquescent. Vodka doesn’t like theatrics: it walks into your midnight bedroom already naked, slips in beside you, takes your shoulders in its icy hands and shoves. Is that a burglar at the window? No, he lives with me, actually. Well, let him in for Christ’s sake, let’s actually get this over with.


One autumn, years after you fucked me to shreds and vanished, I visited Anna at her studio upstate. We walked the stubbled fields, drank wine beneath a yellow willow, and after dinner she showed me some canvases. One was of you; stretched nude in a green chair, your fingers even longer, skin even deeper burnt umber than I remembered. Anna was amazed. I didn’t know her. She modeled at the colony last summer. Today, years since I saw Anna, someone behind me on the snowy sidewalk calls Serena! Lost one, what’s become of me? I thought of the painting first.


Snow plunges down the night, scatters in gritty bursts above the vacant lot like salt into fields of Carthage. I’m sixteen stories above, watching the bedlam rush up and down the window like a biology-class film of blood cells lunging at the gates of the heart and falling back repulsed, like your breath through the telephone rising with Florida and falling with Never. Through the cracks in the sidewalk below, spidery arms of chickweed clutch at women torn from magazines, spin them in a frozen cotillion. If every streetlight on the block’s shot out, where’s that glow coming from?


We shit in a hole, got sand in our teeth, fought army ants in our sleep. Remember? I got so sick you had to cut my meat: pale cubes tough as dice. Then you got sick and I went swimming. That was wrong. But didn’t I bring you a bucket of purple starfish, fetch fresh water from the cenote, kiss your griddle forehead? No. Those are lies. Sorry I told so many. You wanted to fuck and I kept pinching the yellow candle out. Sorry about the dark. Sorry I filled your head with eggs. Sorry I wasn’t really sleepy.

For more, read our interview with Joel Brouwer.

Photo credits: Kate Farnady (first three photos), Grant Faulkner

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