National Poetry Month 2023: Day 21

I love featuring poetry by KB Brookins here on the blog. They’re an amazing poet I had the good fortune to share a stage with at Malvern Books in Austin several years ago. Tonight’s poem, “Good Grief,” encompasses so much more than the winter storm that incapacitated Texas a couple of years ago. 

Good Grief
after Texas Winter Storm Uri

I’ll admit that I’ve never thought about frostbite. 

Trauma of the blood, a thing to be avoided when heat goes out for an entire state.

I don’t know where to place this grief, this sweltering state freezing, politicians breezing over to a country that doesn’t have tissue choked out by its winter yet. 

The sky can only do what it does. 

The American government can only do what systems driven by green paper, violence, & ache can do. 

The trees bloom over dead bodies, missing. 

The sound of hands rubbing, engines purring, hopes that gas lights or chafing or the rapture won’t come first may quiver in my blood forever. 

I am Black but maybe I am doomed. 

Memory flashes like a computer screen; I see the zoom link expand. Colleagues process whatever failure number of a thousand this was this year and I can only remember white. 

Six inches deep, sunken into my boots all over. 

The timeline of friends stranded, impending doom of electricity shutting off, water pressure slipping into nothing every hour, pipes bursting on top of all that white. 

I haven’t recovered from seeing things that too closely resemble holes in a graveyard. 

I haven’t forgotten the project is due in 2 weeks. 

My therapist says take it easy as if capitalism is listening. As if the body will ever forget what it is given.

I am Black which is history, personified. 

I used to listen to “Pilot Jones fondly. With all this frostbite on my fingers, I’m not sure if I can type. 

I cannot finish another sentence on unity. 

What is unified about ERCOT letting us freeze? Knowing how to fix the problem & not doing it; how does that form a Kumbaya circle?

If I made art about every pain I’ve felt unjustly, I would be swimming in accolades for great American books. 

I would take back every word I’ve written if it ended this.

America is the worst group project. 

I’m writing a great American poem about suffering.

How much is going without food that isn’t canned for a week worth?

The absence of snow feels like betrayal. My memory mixes with American delusion. 

I can’t believe half the things that I’ve been through. 

Ice cold, baby, I told you; I’m ice cold. 

Who said it first, Frank Ocean or Christopher Columbus?

I’ve never been taught how to adequately mourn the nights spent bitching about a brisk wind; the night we almost got stranded trying to get to J before the cold swallowed them whole. 

I want to give everything I’ve been handed a good cry. Red skin & chapped lips deserve it. 

Good grief, what has Texas done to me. 

An article features a person walking past tents near I-35. 

I can’t cry about the body but I feel it.  

A highway splits a nation from its promise to be one

Everything feels blurry and the palm trees have died. 

Everything transported here withers away eventually. 

6 months later and I haven’t been able to shovel out my sadness. 

A news report said that it’s safe to go back to work. & I listen, because what else can you do in 6 inches of white. 

The snow melted and I still feel frostbitten. 

There are no heroes in a freeze-frame changing nothing. 

I pose begrudgingly. Say cheese & then write this. 

I’m not a survivor; just still breathing.

I remember grief, love’s grand finale.

What else do we have if not the memory of life? 

I cannot tell you how many lives I’ve lost to mourning, but I can tell you that the sky does what it does. 

Let’s go for a walk & touch the trees that survived like us. 

Let’s write a future more joyful & less inevitable in segments of leaves. 

Anything we dream will be better than this.

“Good Grief” was first published by poets.org. You can order KB Brookins’ book Freedom House at this link, and this whole month the publisher is offering a 20% discount with the code READMORE if you buy it directly from them.

***

KB Brookins is a Black, queer, and trans writer, cultural worker, and artist from Texas. Their work is featured in Poets.org, HuffPost, Poetry Magazine, Teen Vogue, RichesArt Gallery, American Poetry Review, Oxford American, Electric Literature, Okayplayer, and many other places. Their chapbook How To Identify Yourself with a Wound (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022) won the Saguaro Poetry Prize and was named an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book in Literature. KB’s debut full-length poetry collection Freedom House (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2023) and their memoir Pretty (Alfred A. Knopf, 2024) are both forthcoming. 

Currently, KB is a National Endowment of the Arts fellow; MFA candidate at The University of Texas at Austin; Poet-in-Residence at Civil Rights Corps; and at work on their debut installation art project Freedom House: An Exhibition with Prizer Arts & Letters. They have earned fellowships from PEN America, Lambda Literary, and The Watering Hole among others. KB’s poem “Good Grief” won the Academy of American Poets 2022 Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize.

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