Bright Star (2009) | art by Brianna Ashby
illustration by Brianna Ashby

I Know Girls Like Fanny Brawne

I knew I loved Fanny from the moment
I saw her: girl of yellows and bright reds.
The world a stupid game, filled with token
idiots wearing heavy, plaid-strewn threads.
Dances are dances, parties a big waste
of time. She goes, of course, it’s expected.
At the end of the night, she leaves with haste:
her hair pulled back, her ego protected.
Watch out for her. Fanny does laugh, laughs hard.
But when she feels rage (and oh, does she), would
you step aside or risk being left scarred?
I know such fierce girls like Fanny Brawne:
chew their bottom lip, leaving the skin raw.

Fanny Wants a Knife

Run down to the kitchen, sweet little girl
and fetch a knife because Fanny is through
with this pathetic life. Young thing, curl
your fingers around the handle and do
not fear. This is for Fanny’s own good. Bring
the knife, walk it up the stairs, slowly and
pointed face down. Big knives are heavier
than you think, they pull your whole tiny hand
to the floor. Drop to your knees. Fanny cries—
hide the knife behind your back—and clutches
your shoulders. With each eager sob, she dies
a little more. She holds your hand, touches
your face. She no longer needs the big knife,
but my god, is it hard to be alive.

What You Actually Should Know about Poetry

It is more of a machine than you think—
sit, write, think, scrap, and so on. A science?
Barely. Poems don’t end, Fanny. But ink
runs out, readers get bored. It’s defiance,
if anything, a form of blunt protest
against all that hurts us (though mostly love).
The work is best when you write what you guess.
In the end, we are all unworthy of
poetry, so don’t let it hold you back.
Take the books, Fanny, I give them to you.
Pile them up against the wall, let the black
covers grow dusty with the seasons. You do
not have to read them, but you can pretend
to understand their words, what was once penned.

One Last Sonnet for Butterflies

There is a dull scrape of wings against wood
as Mother sweeps up what’s left of this spring.
Splinters slice through oranges and blues. Could
never keep the floor clean. Fanny just thought
they’d brighten the place up. Butterflies won’t
simply die, you know. They crumble and rot.
She is an undertaker, clearing bones.
Pick up the butterfly corpses, then lunch.
(In a college workshop, I was once told:
“Don’t write a poem about butterflies.
There is nothing left to say. It’s too old
of a subject. It’s anything but wise.”
It’s not wrong, but those butterflies lay strewn
across the bedroom won’t leave my sight soon.)

For the Man in the Garden

You pick flowers early in the morning:
posies and daisies, a few violets.
You find him by accident. No warning
of him beneath the bush. He’s not dead yet,
but he might as well be. He fell asleep
on the grass. At ground level, everything
above you looks like a star. Sickness deep
within him, his breath is so thick, it stings
his lungs. Pick him up, pick him up. So ill—
and yet his eyes glow nonetheless. His death
will come soon, but, shush, don’t tell him. He still
hopes (or so we think). Under baby’s breath
he thinks he’s resting, not dying. Pull him
out of the garden before the light dims.

Bright Star (2009)

I don’t mean to discount the tragedy
of this film, but it didn’t make me cry.
There’s death, dying, enough brutality
for a lifetime. No tears, just heavy sighs.
Call me heartless, unsentimental but
I refuse to watch a girl cry one tear
standing at a cold window. No, just cut
to rage, ugly gasps—fists shake in raw fear
at the foot of a staircase. In poems,
we learn to know ourselves through others’ work.
In films, we see ourselves down to the bone,
and turn it off. Walk away, changed and irked.
I did not cry but I did shake and breathe
as the credits rolled, as the story ceased.