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Heaved from the Earth

after the tornado, a dead moccasin
nailed to the pole
boards scattered across a pasture

lying fierce crosses
jagged in mud

had flung itself
nail and wood
the square-head animal
hurled also in air

or as it raced in weeds
water flowing, water falling
both the snake and timber

went flying through with wind

coiled, made a coil ( they do
immediately from danger or when hurt
and died in a coil
bit itself
in pain of its own defense the poison

		   hurled into yard
		    one with feet tangled gripping
		the open wire, a big Jay

struggling from the water
throwing its fanged head

high at the lightning, silent
in all that thunder

to die by its own mouth
pushing the fire thorns in

—Besmilr Brigham

C. D. Wright reads Besmilr Brigham's “Heaved from the Earth”

Transcription of Commentary

Besmilr Brigham was born in Mississippi in 1913 and died in New Mexico in 2000. She lived most of her life, when she was not roaming and camping, with her husband Roy and her daughter Heloise in Southwestern Arkansas, outside the small town of Horatio.

Besmilr Brigham was a writer from childhood, and her writing is an idiosyncratic record of her life as an inevitable cause for singular expression. Her strongest affinity is with the creature-world. Her attention to the peopled-world is likewise profound, though with the tensions of a strong willed individual laid in and confined mostly to immediate family. Poems in series were a common part of her practice but the solitary poem was a way of tuning to her daily environment. She was an acquaintance and correspondent with other writers, including Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, John Gould Fletcher, and her son-in-law, Keith Wilson, but she was a confirmed loner.

Though she received one of the early grants for the National Endowment for the Arts, published in premier commercial and literary magazines, and published a full-length collection with Random House, she remained an obscure poet, un-pin-down-able in every sense of the word. In fact, just to find her house, our small team working on the Lost Roads Project: A Walk-In Book of Arkansas, in 1994, had to meet the mail carrier at a filling station on a Sunday to be led to the Brigham’s homestead.

Brigham was a fearless, unsentimental writer. This poem, in sentence fragments, and terse strophes, chronicles the aftermath of a tornado. She was the exact right person to testify to a moccasin suicide. Brigham insistently used a closing parenthesis with no opening parenthesis. She drives into her poem at an unexpected angle—exits without explanation. She gives the reader ample space to expand and elaborate on her intentions. This is stubborn, backcountry matter—predators and prey. The sky above and the ground into which the house is sinking, the black snake sleeping under the porch step, the books kept dry in a decommissioned freezer are enough to secure her place in the American rural South and her poems inscribed, each and every one, along their own edge, are enough to secure her increased and enduring visibility in the years to come.

“Heaved from the Earth” Besmilr Brigham from Run Through Rock: Selected Short Poems of Besmilr Brigham. Lost Roads Press, 2000.

Reprinted by permission of Heloise Brigham Wilson.

C. D. Wright

C. D. Wright

Read “until words turn to moss” by C. D. Wright

C. D. Wright (1949-2016) was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas. She is the author of 15 poetry collections, including String Light (1991); Rising, Falling, Hovering (2008), winner of the Griffin International Prize; and, most recently, One with Others (2010), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Witter Bynner Fellowship. Her other honors include the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Poetry Center Book Award. Wright was the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1994-1999 and was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. A co-founder of Lost Road Press, Wright was the Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University. C. D. Wright died in 2016. Photo credit: Forrest Gander

Learn more about C. D. Wright at The Poetry Foundation

Besmilr Brigham

Besmilr Brigham

Besmilr Brigham (1913-2000) was born in Pace, Mississippi. She is the author of three volumes of poetry; her last, Run Through Rock: Selected Short Poems of Besmilr Brigham (2000), was published posthumously. In 1970, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Brigham lived most of her later life in Horatio, Arkansas, before moving to New Mexico, where she died in 2000.

Learn more about Besmilr Brigham