broken rose I

Follows here the concluding section of talking rock books’ “The Moon Is Always Local” (2013), “Broken Rose I.”

“Broken Rose I” (1990-1995) a chapbook by bob bradley

From Atomic Erotic Volume 1: “The Moon is Always Local”

Talking Rock Books | Jasper, Georgia

Memory believes, before knowing remembers.

–William Faulkner

Let grief be a fallen leaf

at the dawn of a new day.

–Patrick Kavanagh

I. Jonesboro, North Carolina: February, 1938

A hard frost—stiff cattails—those frozen bristles

Above the child trouble an itch. She digs with

bent spoon in one mittoned hand,

the other props her for leverage.

Searching for the silver thimble

she buried last fall, she scrapes and stabs

at the thawing earth, uncovering pieces of gypsum

and mica, root-bound chunks of quartz.

High, hard sun works late snow.

Swells the current through distant shoals.

Farther off, heaves it over the falls.

Tufts of fog and mist rise over the river’s surface.

Above the valley, a plane makes its way

across a sky that seems farther away than the sun,

and as blue now as hand-blown glass.

She stands, forgets the thimble, listens:

From each pine needle, a single bead

of melting snow quivers, other itches dangling

for a scratch. Each falls, one by one, onto ice

crusted along the floor of the grove behind her.

Mindless pocks, a random patter.

She breathes in. Bright air flares her nostrils.

The tang of two seasons bending to touch

opens her arms. Her bangs shift as it sidles past,

as if a feather brushed her forehead.

She closes her eyes; she doesn’t move—that

would break the spell. Found thing feeding

a hurt mind new magic, this flush of luck

passing through this stretch of Widow’s Trail,

this cove where the swollen current dozes,

tucked in the pulsing crook of the river’s elbow.

II. Jonesboro, North Carolina: January, 1944


She touches herself with the same hands

she prays with, lost in late afternoon dolor,

kneeling in the dark room, draped by mid-winter.

She’s afraid the sparrows will come back,

searching for seeds hidden under snow.

She knows they roost at night. Has heard

flutter and rustle as they nest their small

frenzies in her closet, their wings and bodies

a single quivering blackness that smothers

her blouses, skirts, and shoes.

Clumsy thoughts crowd the same panic

that rouses her. Dinner’s cooking—scent

of biscuits, simmer of greens, sizzle

of pan-fried meat stalks the house,

a seeking beast gumming at the very air

she struggles to breathe.

So she sneaks through rooms,

makes her sly way down to the cellar,

where she sulks and then dozes, curled

on a basket of Mother’s old, moody clothes.


She wakes slowly.

Heels cross the floor overhead.

Hands perform perfunctory chores.

Murmur of voices agitate, querying,

wondering about her—her—caught

dreaming again of the fingers

she’s kissed, so thirsty for those tear

drops under the long nails.

She stretches. Yawns.

Makes her way to the door,

works the knob and hinges, decoding

the giveaway creaks and groans

with the art of escape she’s mastered.

Outside the cellar door,

she stops—her body flexes, relaxes.

Her eyes narrow in the moonlight,

slowly focus on the sparrows that peck

and hop about the snow-covered yard.

She prowls the thin ice glazing the walk.

No longer afraid of those birds—

so , so frail—bound so delicately

to their nervous shadows by

strands of fine, black thread.

III.  Great Smoky Mountains: October, 1954

The Greyhound bus slows: a two-car crash.

Through the rain-glazed window,

she registers the torn guard rail along

the narrow road, flames clawing at the night.

Down in the ravine, tangled metal blazes.

Roils fire and smoke that dances the passenger’s

Faces as they watch from the ridge above.

Helpless, she whispers. No survivors.

And she swings her head slowly,

from side to side, for the erasure.

The bus pauses; idling throbs and rattles

Mention her very bones.

It grows bad indeed inside her own skin.

She thinks a thing or two:

Knoxville is a town. It’s down the road.

The gears grind out a slowly building

momentum, and she erases, swinging.

Rain on the glass runnels past, glossing

the scene across the bus window.

It can’t get in now, but she can’t get out.

The wreck sucked everything decent out

of this journey. Leaving her alone. Speeding

to a man’s pair of arms that will soon close

around her, envelope her. To his body.

He,  a man, lives in Knoxville.

It’s down the road. She practices, tries out

the strange new name she’ll know him by.

Lover. ..?  she calls him. Whispers it again.

She huddles deeper in her seat, gathers

the borrowed topcoat about her. Sirens rake

past, she studies the whirl of red light.

And she erases every bit of it, swinging.

IV. Bridal Shower, Sanford, North Carolina: June, 1955

At the bridal shower, Mother calls them back to

the living room. Three women approach the easy chair,

whispering, laughing, their steps muffled

by the plush pile carpet. The bride-to-be takes

her seat in the center, worrying the string of pearls

around her throat. Two friends, trim and girlish

in sleeveless taffeta, adjust the orchid pinned

to her lapel. They’ve wiped the counter tops.

The punch bowl’s upside down in the drain.

Glass cake plates soak in warm, soapy water.

They place a present in her lap and kneel beside

her—excited, anxious to please—good company

for such a nervous bride. With a “Smile…” and

a “Hold it…,” Mother centers the camera on

her subjects, focuses on the bride-to-be’s corsage,

and, with a click, she captures the moment when,

unlike her friends, the bride’s eyes lowered.

Perhaps a detail distracted her—place settings,

her gown, the wedding night. Maybe Fate was

already walking her down the aisle, her trembling

arm locked in his.

The shutter snapped, seizing the arrangement.

a fixed moment, the pose of three women as poised,

as flawless as the centerpiece of satin tulips.

The picture shows that bride-to-be, despite the

smiles she and her friends held patiently, how

she brooded, her dark eyes lowered just so.

While the kitchen tap dripped, and the camera focused,

her thoughts roamed far from that living room, where

the German cuckoo kept time, and the dust mingled,

suspended in columns of late afternoon light.

V. Jonesboro, North Carolina: October, 1959

That new son of hers, she nursed him out here,

at the barbed wire fence, at the edge of the pine grove.

She hummed a song to all sadness that coiled

its way through the whorl of his infant ear,

her coat and blouse open to the tug

on her nipple, blood inside the faint blue

vein a ghost pulsing within her breast.

On this chill day; she’s left him behind.

The gray light is faint solace for the days

and nights of the tunneling silence she bore, infant

in arms, a new appendage—a dependent,

inexhaustable hunger, its constant need trying

her attention—her abilities not up

to the task of blood and milk.

Heavy clouds overhead,

swollen with early, sudden snow.

Dry tobacco leaves rattle on broken stalks.

She moves her hand over the shotgun’s stock,

the grained wood darkened by other

hunters—father, brother, uncles—oil

from their palms absorbed and coloring turns and

twists a type of time older by far.

Wind whispers high in the loft of the grove’s ceiling.

She shoulders the weapon, places cheek

against stock. Slow breath dubs her pulse beat

by beat along the double barrel. She sights in

on one red leaf—a bloody splayed hand fall-shocked

egg-shell surface of an earth,

brittle hazards encircling the void.

She places her lips at the barrel’s end.

The trigger beneath her thumb is a cool

comma warming to her task, a brief pause

as the sentence nears its jagged end. Requires

one shot only. One blast to punctuate. The report

would be deep within the dark bank of trees,

other hunters too distant to hear.

She blinks hard, twice, glances back

over the fields lined with sunken furrows,

back to the farmhouse squatting in the distance.

Dumb. Useless. Ugly. Faint window lights

as dim as the sad fact of a simpleton’s limits.

With all warmth now drawn

out of her and duly banished, she registers,

from the distant highway, the far-off wash

of trucks and travelers. Thus emptied,

she crosses over the barbed wire fence.

Around her, the woods loom large as she moves.

Each sound pricks her ears, each scent flares

her nostrils, this hunter stalking

with a new cunning through the forest.

That new mother—now banished

with her mysteries of blood and milk.

Turned loose with an infant’s song ringing

a panic in her ears—

that new mother’s fled with her fear into the forest.

The Hunter, her chill sister, in pursuit.

The hunter is now sleek with stealth.

Groomed by her intent.

With no memory of child or song,

She merges with her purpose.

She tracks her prey, follows

the young mother’s still-warm trail. Dark,

glistening footprints on the pine needle carpet.

Cold daughter of the hunt,

Cool partner of the kill.

VI. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: January, 1960

She whispers from gray clouds,

My husband…My son…

Like a false spring breeze through a screen door,

the breath behind each word reaches the house

and blooms against the cold windows.

Birds peck at the dead grass of the yard.

But when the two of them leave for church,

the home can be hers again.

She brushes her cheek against the tweed

sportcoat hung on the hallway hook.

Bending over the crib,

she holds to her face the infant’s

still-warm blanket.

She turns from the unmade bed

to the bedroom window.

Stripped oak branches outside ache

like dendrites against the gray sky.

Tires growl an expected return on

the gravel driveway. Car doors slam.

Reluctantly, with a last look,

she slips back outside. A gust

of quail explodes from dry,

broken stalks—crazy wings.

VII. Atlanta, Georgia: October, 1965

Rocking in his red chair, the son

listens closely at twilight.

Sky overcast, swollen clouds

augur the storm’s approach.

Without her, he’s lonely.

And he feels it, imagining an

unwrapped loaf kept on a top shelf,

the crust taking on air, growing curt,

but keeping quiet even so.

When young mother left,

she left her touch. And he remembers,

this boy. Conscious. So careful.

He barely moved a muscle inside her—even when

the skies went dark with weather,

and the clouds settled, so many of them

and so heavy, passing

closer and closer over head.

VIII. Jonesboro, North Carolina: August, 1968

Feeding time in the barn,

the boy holds out yellow kernels

for the mule to gnaw

into spit and paste.

Bare cobs and stripped

shucks underfoot, he stares

at the glassy, white film

floating on its left eye—a spot

of milk to lick off, imagining

the yellowed eye held open,

the dropper poised in the vet’s

steady hand. He presses his ear

against the rib cage. The heart beats

sturdily, drum-deep in

a distant ravine. Nostrils whistle

like wind through the cover crop

of rye. Leave the mule dozing,

splintered hooves splayed in

the barn’s straw and dust.

Whatever spell works behind

an old mule’s lids, gallops now

over smooth, white stones.

IX. Widow’s Trail, North Carolina: January, 1973

A hard freeze hones moonlight

above the frozen tobacco field.

The boy hammers and chips

to free the stone ship. The mast

will be silence. The sail,

the never with her name on it.

For a sea, the far-off growl

of semis, gearing up, awash

on the distant four-lane. Wave

after wave rolls past. High above

his head, whitecaps ripple the night

sky. The full moon conjures like

the crystal ball in a gypsy’s palm.

X. Crozet, Virginia: October, 1985

Three choice stones found

during an afternoon jog. He hefts

the first, and lets it rip, overhand,

catching the locust tree dead-center.

Thock of stone on wood—

and she’s beside him again,

walking the old wagon road,

while October wind goes anywhere it wants.

A splash of color on the treeline,

a little war of orange and yellow

worrying the loft of the sky’s high blue.

He serves up the next: oval and flat.

His three-quarter delivery grooves

Another thock,  and she’s still here, like

little brother’s hand squeezed at

the stranger’s threats, like the postcard

of child miners’ faces covered with grime.

The wind breathes some life

into the dead leaves. They reel and lift,

settle in the chill grass. She’s here—like

a bed-time story he recalls (the baby-sitter’s

embrace, scent of eucalyptus).

He’s got one more. The wind, giddy with it,

is all over the place. Beside him, she trembles

like an ash dangling from a spent match,

but the trunk looks fat, and this last one’s

pear-shaped, so he cuts loose, side-armed.

The stone sails wide, on first bounce strikes

the rusted salt-lick stand beyond, and she’s gone,

like busted knuckles and warm blood on

a just-bit tongue. Like a coal pulsing

in the back of a cave, a hawk hard against

a high sun. She’s as gone as the gravel

in his shoe, as well water in a battered

tin cup, the taste rusting with the bad

news that she’s gone, long gone, just another

open letter the wind writes home.

XI. Baltimore, Maryland: September, 1986

The frame

Witnessed many things

And was clever—

Never took notes.

Liked her, so

remembered her

through her picture.

Framed everything

With her voice

And a little melancholy.

For years, she

Happened that way.

Inside. One

Mood after another.

Still hears her, that

So-sad voice—knows it

Anywhere, attempting

Farewell:  Goodbye

You open wound—

You drunken


But that frame

Taught so as

To know the ways

of its subject. And quietly

replies, “I see your


and raise it. And that–

That will keep you.”

XII. Chicago, Illinois: August, 1991

Two weeks grinding insomnia. He knows

Her mind now, how and why it sought release

From exfoliating antic notions. Granulating

nostrums. He drives the darkened city

streets. Glazed with dreams and refracted

by nightmares. His vision is a reverse telescope.

Arrives near dawn by the lake.

Parks and gazes at the oceanic

Horizon. Metropolis behind him.

Memory unspools and he releases the

obvious traditions having outlasted their

reasons. Releases the Need, riven by

the fear that no land will await

his next footstep, astronauts

of the Terra Bubble, playing

golf in the vast lunar silence.

He releases the Need and lets it go.

Watches it float away like a kite a

Honey-haired doppelganger showed him

Once at Myrtle Beach. Release that Myrtle Beach.

Also high school dumbass. Release

the archival franchises and Lou Reed singing

take a walk on the wild side from scratchy

boardwalk speakers. Release American

vacations that turn the shoreline brackish.

Release his last new youth, so dear to the Need,

Golden always smiling, sun-splashed

and candy-hearted. Between great lake and

mid-western metropolis, he hears Joe South,

don’t it make you want to go home.

Bare-foot boy and all-American design.

Cobbled in the long-ago light. Now

harbinger here of the Need’s twilight dawn.

Joe. He is telling you now and no

Later. Release always brings

him some kind of news from home.

Whether he wants to hear it

or not.

XIII. Nashville, Tennessee: November, 1995

He saw her at dusk. Caught among

gnarls of poplars’

wind-stripped branches.

And she hovered there like a dare.

Very edge of a message

that falls just short of a listening ear.

Perhaps thoughts he might confess called

her that close, but last light fooled him.

He watched her draw back,

still partnering the eyes’ farther reaches

with the art of fear and shadow.

That same old trick of the dead. But still.

Dangerous strange. Early stars rifle

the dark-haired sky. Crossing cold those

frozen zones the lonely roam,

lucky to be forgotten.

She was gone again.

Across the twilight she left him in,

Church bells tolled the final hour of

orange and amber. The last moments

of rust and russet rolled over the

burned-out splendor of

earth’s final weather.

Stalks and husks lay still

in the exhausted fields, chilled

by whispers of winter in the air,

ghosted by flowering frost.

Night bows down over

earth’s violent dreams of birth,

Spread like the shawl of a widow bent

over an empty crib, rocking and rocking.

Author’s Notes from The Moon is always local:

This book represents the fruits of labors that now reach into four decades. The first section is lyric poetry, first efforts, and are arranged for the most part chronologically. “New River” conceived before an R.E.M. concert in Blacksburg, Virginia in 1985. The poem felt right as a kind of preface for the collection. Certain times have certain songs.

“The Dolphins” I consider my first real poem, written at age 24, fall of 1983. “Milk Ghosts” was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize at the University of Virginia in 1985. (Bless U.Va.). From there Moon moves through selected lyrics (my hymns to language as semi-divine medium) to the second section, which ventures forth into more narrative explorations, as well as taking on the tradition of dramatic monologues through various personae.

The last section is a sequence that represents poems written in an attempt to place/understand/nay, exploit the suicide of my mother when I was four months old. Imagine the wreckage of my father’s life in wake of it, not to mention my own. The sequence takes the reader from the rural sand hills of the Carolina Piedmont to the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, to Belmont Boulevard in Nashville, Tennessee, that ‘island in time.’ The poem  is an elegy to my great-aunt, Jesse Ann Ridgeway Hawkins, for whom my mother was named. Certain liberties taken with story and details are justified by the task at hand.

This subject is revisited in the meta-novel “Broken Rose II,” which combines text, music and spoken word to ‘revision’ the story of my parent’s tragic love affair and its outcomes. The poet has been described variously by people who should know as “a one of a kind something or other,” “a regional cultural icon,” and “a neo-Blakean, southern gothic.”

Whatever. I studied great people and artists. Voraciously absorbed whatever knowledge I could from their demonstrations. For some reason, I felt and tried to answer the call to be a great artist (as ‘great’ was understood in the late 20th century) and there was no real curriculum. So in that sense I am another  in a long line of venerable autodidacts.

Ultimately, the passion of/for the thing, the work, was what called and perhaps sustained me. Even as it compelled me. Along with the usual more prurient motivations. Reading these poems, may the reader be touched by that essential part of source within her/him.

These poems arose from that intention and from that part of me.

Whoever that is.

Biography: Bob Bradley

Artist | Educator | Social Design.

Bob Bradley was born in Mansfield, Ohio, May 31, 1959 at 8:30am. Grew up in Sanford, North Carolina and Georgia. He was educated at Beecher Hills Baptist Church Kindergarten and Cascade Road Elementary School in Atlanta, GA, Marietta High School in Marietta Georgia. He graduated from the University of Georgia, Athens, in 1981,where he studied with Coleman Barks and, in 1985, from the University of Virginia, where he studied with Charles Wright and Gregory Orr. Bradley studied independently with Robert Bly, Joseph Campbell, William Stafford, Allen Ginsberg, Marion Woodman, Ed Sanders, Ruth Stone, Philip Levine, Robert Hass and Frank Bidart.

Writings include poetry published in Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Southern Poetry Review, Seneca Review, Poetry East, Antioch Review, Plainsong, Iris, and Painted Bride Quarterly, among others. For this poetry, he has been awarded fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and won the Academy of American Poets Prize in 1984.

Non-fiction writings include articles on and interviews with Lucinda Williams, Madison Smartt Bell, Ruth Stone, Vic Chesnutt, and Robert Francis, among others.

As editor of Haw River Books, Bradley published limited edition chapbooks by David Daniel, Tom Andrews and Molly Bendall, as well as National Book Award-winners Robert Bly, Ruth Stone, and William Stafford. Stafford’s, Writing the World, Haw River’s first publication, was nominated for the 1988 Los Angeles Times Book of the Year in Poetry.

As singer songwriter, he has created independently-produced song collections: Secular Musics, Woodchip Stew, Sparkles from the Wheel, Pure Product, Vol. I and II, Hollywood, and New World Now. His album, Tobacco Sunburst, was produced by Don Dixon, and features Dixon, Mitch Easter, Peter Holsapple and Rob Ladd.

Spoken word collections include: Night Sessions (2005), Earlysville (2005)

Bless: America’s Greatest Hits Volume I (2009), PsalmSalvation (2011), all with Kenny Vaughan.

As a supporting and headlining performer, he has shared the stage with, among others, Peter Buck (REM), Kevn Kenny, David Mead, Joe, Marc’s Brother, Lucinda Williams, Mindy Smith, Robert Bly, Keith Urban, Madison Smartt Bell, Vic Chesnutt, Jim Clark, David Daniel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Coleman Barks, the Chickasaw Mud Puppies, Night Ranger, Wyn Cooper, Steve Earle, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple and Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie).

As an educator and technologist advancing social design, a “poetics of people,” Bradley has created a multi-media portfolio that can be accessed at:

He lives in Nashville, TN.