Jenny Browne
Until the Sea Closed Over Us and the Light Was Gone



-Dante, Canto XXVI



But if the truth is dreamed of toward the morning

-El Paso


Although it was really last summer’s song,

all this summer Despacito played on


as slower then I turned myself to gaze

upon Juarez. The summer everything


hurts my eyes, a dozen Thai boys tweezed from

beneath the surface, the picnic table shirts


of those bold Croats, even words sprayed below

the bridge I walked back across: Sabes el


camino? Do I know the way? Donde? 

Wolves change rivers. A swallowtail lingers.


It was summer all morning & all night

& soon it would always be summer so


I point us toward the far sea & mean

we approach the ocean like returning.



And going our lonely way through that dead land

-Salt Flat


We approach the ocean like returning

soldiers, arms open wide, or we approach

the ocean like border patrol pickups

speeding six hundred fifty-something miles

of exposed skin. We approach the ocean like

poachers, galloping at the speed of blood.


We approach the ocean ripping open

our shirts to roar. We approach not to be of

God, but in God. Or we ghost approach with

no preposition at all, mirroring

the fat frack trucks speeding past, loaded down with

even wider temporary housing

as if the sea too was made quick & cheap,

thin walls already bubbling in the heat.



Till my prayer becomes a thousand

            -Van Horn


Thin walls already bubbling in the heat,

I consider the blanketed woman

feeding a host of sparrows before church.

(If by layers we mean how little we

can see inside another animal.)


You will be kind. You will try. You still

like the fortunes about basic human

decency best, even as the seams of

your map turn soft as tissue. (& if by

layers we mean dressed to walk

all night long?)


& like every seed you will start confused,

searching long in the dark & like every

seed you will crown out holy holy holy is the Lord

of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.




When memory returns to what I say



Of hosts! The whole earth! Full of his glory!

would be Isaiah 6:3, more or less,

verses it took me until now to learn

I once buried, a churched child, only

to dig up today for our birds, our dirt,

cobblestones, & that bell that keeps ringing

without needing reason. I don’t want to

make kindness heroic, although I do.

Once upon a horse I got turned around.

Once too by a god, then sent off to find

the donkey its tail. Also by the hands

of a man, first gently, then not so much.

Though he was no machete, nor was sex

two trucks stuck between Pecos & death.




But if near dawn the dreams we have are true




Two trucks stuck between Pecos & death

makes for an uphill line to begin again.


By side, by side, they grind their teeth

& we shall not be moved. If then I felt


we were all just waves, that vague & that

abstract. Or there ought to be a law against


motion sickness, but we’re born with it:

landscape as a list of future targets.


The Golden Cheeked Warbler didn’t have time

to pack & if— as Dogen writes—we should


not view ash as after, and firewood

as before, what time is being told & told


but not listening? What would it be 

to die, or stay alive, albeit fearlessly?




If it already happened it should not be too soon




To die, or stay alive, albeit fearlessly,

my mind must stop revising that great hawk

into a killing machine. I don’t mean

to sound so apocalyptic, but I

remind my students they can’t put a drone

in their poem without some blood on their hands

or leave out the man scanning his screen for

heat. It’s cold in Ozona, but I meet

the happiest men in the world also

heading east. Nothing to do there but fish.


Birds of a feather, gods of wind, I am

supposed to warm to your slow turning 

blades of war. Mine, not oars. Arms grow sore

wishing our species better metaphors.




We made wings of our oars for our fool’s flight

-Seminole Canyon


Wishing our species better metaphors,

I consider the author of borders

& fear standing up the slumped horizon.


The anthropocene’s silent auction now

closing. Author of brushing peach pie from

the geologist’s beard. From here, we can

see smog hiding one of her children

behind her back. The other approaches

the canvas: our land turns blue, our eyes black.


The refugee takes her sky’s temperature.


Author of those two white horses feeding

at the Val Verde County Line, reminding us

of nothing. It was still summer & it was


never their job to humanize the land.




Just like a little cloud sailing skyward

-Del Rio



Never their job to humanize the land,

a hotwired breeze doubles the feeling.

Do I have a choice? jokes the man who owns

the only pho shop downtown when I ask

how he likes living here? On the border?


On earth? I thought this was a slow dance,

but we laugh until we cry, like people do:

jinx on me, jinx on you. Rain never did

follow the plow, but the soybean expert

now wants his overtime beer. Each of us


is to ourselves permanent. I remain

petty & confused by joy, a seed

in the hot blind earth. I must remember

what I cannot believe. I must remember.




It grieved me then and now again it grieves me

-Rock Springs


What can I not believe? I must remember

that day outside Rock Springs when the green

needles on the cypress made it look so

easy to survive us. Outside my room

two boys built a fort of mud & sticks so

that a third might come stomp on it. Which one

will grow into the kind of man who climbs

a mountain to pick up ash another

left behind? Which will leave his tongues untied,

the dogstar blinking from his eyes: Tonight!

Buckets of iced Corona on special!


Even this thirsty one might begin to

feel oceanic out there. What between

the ocotillo & the tequila.




Only those flames, forever passing by



The ocotillo & the tequila

& the way it becomes even harder to

breathe as ozone repeats Do your job! Do

your job? In a different land a man needed

only a goat to cross the century.


Nothing sadder than a train in the rain?

The methane flares do their job, burning all

the night. As does the eyelid, the moth &

even the mouth, testing out echoes in

this unfinished house. How is it the girls

in Juarez turned to dust? How is it I’m

still holding this stone? Nothing sadder than

sagging, frostbit cactus? It’s a breeze to

be lost & not seem. Ask the lonely bees.




Beyond the world, the light beneath the moon

-San Antonio



Be lost & not seem? Ask the lonely bees,

those tricked into believing more painted blue

ceiling meant more blue sky. Sana sana

echoes the mockingbird, our little grey songster.


She’s heard the mothers try to make it better.

She’s heard the father on the border howl

in his holding cage. We never learned to

love the way blossoms & almonds do.


In the history book of the newly born,

every room is a room of water. That

is where the dreamers land. In late July,

the river tried to love her own thinning


face like sleep. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.

I would have liked to have known you before.




I stood on the bridge and leaned out from the edge




I would have liked to have known you before,

your stars jeweling like migratory desire

in song above the old town. Someone leaves

the trains on all night. Until the river

again unlocks the grey bird’s light, she sings.


On the promise of an empire of

monarchs protecting our only sky, she sings.


Thawed back into recognition, she sings

while on the muted television one

of those shows where a hidden camera films

a roofer using his nail gun to pin

a sleeping old woman’s wig to her head.


People look horrified, but do nothing.

People look horrified, but do nothing.



May I not find the gift cause for remorse



People look horrified, but do nothing

to imagine the distance before steam,

before turbine? We could have made so much

better time. But why? On toward the shore with

exactly four grackles & the hard wind

some still call a Norther. Sort that makes

it rain sideways. Then comes the Horse Crippler

& the Greater Roadrunner repeating

the question. Comes caliche, cochineal

I-35 & missing our exit. 

Did you forget where we live? The work

for which all other work is preparation?

Wake early & watch a girl leaning from land

to thank the water with both of her hands.




And turning our stern toward morning




To thank the water with both of her hands.


Do you know what is the way? Return us

to the body’s surface without violence,

as we were & as we never were, still

approaching the ocean like we own it.

Despacito. Memorize the tune we

call air for the next time you need to breathe.


You said it was summer all night, all day,

& no one knows what to wear anymore.


Not skin, the citrus trees, nor the future.

O one, o none, o no one, o you. Where

Let the way when no where it led?


Without the last of what summer’s song?




Broke hard upon our bow from the new land

-Corpus Christi


Although it was really last summer’s song,

we approached the ocean like returning,

thin walls already bubbling in the heat

of hosts, the whole earth full of his glory.


Two trucks stuck between Pecos & death?      

To die, or stay alive, albeit fearlessly?

Wished our species better metaphors.

Never their job. To humanize the land


what could I not believe? I must

remember the ocotillo & the tequila!


To be lost & not seem, ask the lonely bees.

I would have liked to have known you before people


look horrified but do nothing

to thank the water with both of her hands.













Found In Volume 49, No. 04
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Jenny Browne
About the Author

Jenny Browne is the author of three collections of poems, At OnceThe Second Reason and Dear Stranger and two chapbooks, Welcome to Freetown and Texas, Being. She was the 2018 Poet Laureate of the State of Texas and Distinguished Fulbright Scholar in Creative Writing at Queens University, Belfast Northern Ireland in Spring 2020.