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.
Let grief be a fallen leaf
at the dawn of a new day.
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
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
Witnessed many things
And was clever—
Never took notes.
Liked her, so
through her picture.
With her voice
And a little melancholy.
For years, she
Happened that way.
Mood after another.
Still hears her, that
So-sad voice—knows it
You open wound—
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
XIII. Nashville, Tennessee: November, 1995
He saw her at dusk. Caught among
gnarls of poplars’
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.