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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Laynie Browne


We deepened along the shore, gazing beyond the three-dimensional. In ultra-marine emblems we lifted into a non-materiality we could not have previously suspected. All those centuries of June before having met symbolism as an architecture of lies. I always thought impoliteness was the worst dishonesty, so much so, that I failed to notice liars. What deepens depends on the deep end having nothing to do with dependency on a common mirage. The first time I escorted myself toward one tiny habitable enclosure I saw a brink of poverty, chaos and trauma. At first I told myself I would not stay. Then looking with those other eyes, not of flesh—or not even eyes, except that we are most familiar with seeing located in this fashion, globelike, in the skull—I noted that even though distress was actual, it was also non-existent. I drove through ruined streets to meet you knowing that illusion would not stop. And though I can describe this most easily as a gaze we hold wherein one version of reality slips, allowing another to emerge, simultaneously—all of the worlds are present.

Mud Daubers

The mud daubers appeared quite predictably, in the window of the mud room. This room was occupied by various coats, shoes, bookshelves, a desk and a rabbit. Four or five wasps stalked the screen, between two panes of glass, their elongated wings transparent and overlaid with a dark broderie, their delicate legs vaguely threatening. I wondered, will they be able to get inside the room, and thus, into the further recesses of the house? Our sage blind elderly rabbit said nothing, but angled her ears. My plan was to wait until dark, and then to spray their nest, though I felt hideous at the prospect. A severe thunderstorm was expected. I located the necessary poison and then stepped onto the porch by the woodpile just as the rain began to fall. Heavy languid drops punctuated the thick air. A cauldron, with occasional fireflies. Because it wasn’t possible to open the window from the outside, and because I was tired, and because the notion of opening the window from the inside, possibly exposing the mudroom and the house to mud daubers, I paused and gazed at the their lovely geometric nests so carefully constructed. How could I destroy such a deliberate and beautiful architecture? Also, my son told me that these mud daubers would not sting or bite. I still find this implausible after viewing their impressive poise and stature, and after reading of them that should I remove their nest simply with a paint scraper or a hose; they would not fight back. A sting from a mud dauber is extremely rare. And so their nest remains, the only danger being that other more aggressive insects might take up residence in these delicate mud cells.


Yesterday is not today. Eyes immediately tear up, a response to pollen, when I step outside to water the garden. The person I thought of as my evening, just once, turned out to be partially ruined, like the peach I just placed in the compost. A house is like that, consuming hours. A face like a serrated leaf, looking down, as I always used to do. The prolific strangling vine destroying peonies and azaleas is only looking for a way to climb, as was someone I’d never met, destroying the person who I’d imagined as a companion in a tulle gown saying something over the top of a wine glass. This ruin was a reminder to actively decide what percentage of my nervous system I would allow to be electrified, hijacked or ravaged. Would it be more accurate to say that to develop empathy is not necessarily to set one’s face in a vise, but somehow to still be an evening, a breeze, a constitutional brightness. I held the hand of every over-ripe Sunday and pressed my eyes to the relevant page or gallery of evidence. I ignored any alarming bitterness pointed in my direction—groves of knife blades—the results of suffering. We are all wondering how to accept non-quixotic life, the one that comes after birth, love and age, the one emerging as a constant cycle of indigestible doom. How to still exist inside days containing habitable bodies and effervescent nights? I look to the plants, rocks, water and wind for advice.


Laynie Browne’s recent books include a collection of poems, Translation of the Lilies Back into Lists (Wave Books 2022) and the anthology A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on The Poet’s Novel (Nightboat, 2021). Forthcoming books include Letters Inscribed in Snow (Tinderbox, 2022) and Apprentice to a Breathing Hand (Omnidawn, 2025). Honors include a Pew Fellowship, the National Poetry Series Award and the Contemporary Poetry Series Award. She teaches and coordinates the MOOC Modern Poetry at University of Pennsylvania.

Other works by Laynie Browne »

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