Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Lost and Certain of It

Lost and Certain of It

by Bryce Milligan

See All Formats & Editions

Lost and Certain of It is a genre-blending collection of Bryce Milligan's poetry and music. Travelling from Texas to New Orleans and from funerals to bus stops, these lyrical and imaginative writings cross back and forth between prose, poetry, and music, resulting in a deeply personal collection of thoughts on music, art, and life.


Lost and Certain of It is a genre-blending collection of Bryce Milligan's poetry and music. Travelling from Texas to New Orleans and from funerals to bus stops, these lyrical and imaginative writings cross back and forth between prose, poetry, and music, resulting in a deeply personal collection of thoughts on music, art, and life.

Product Details

Wings Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Lost and Certain of It

By Bryce Milligan

Wings Press

Copyright © 2006 Bryce Milligan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-899179-99-2


Lost and certain of it

    Lost and certain of it, the woods crowd in
    allowing only glimpses of the track
    that was so clear and broad and well traveled

    only moments back where the sun fell bright
    between the leaves to dapple the mast, but
    lost and certain of it, the woods crowd in

    spinning the senses like leaves in a wind
    risen from the past to obscure the path
    that was so clear and broad and well traveled.

    A broad green stream appears for a moment
    strewn with rippled light and autumn's soft flames.
    Lost and certain of it, the woods crowd in

    and the stream slips away into the deeper shade,
    taking with it the desire for the path
    that was so clear and broad and well traveled,

    taking with it the memory of the last
    dregs of love and I am glad that I am
    lost and certain of it.
    Let the woods crowd out
    all that is clear and broad and well traveled.

    Summers in the Country

    for Tino Villanueva

    Summers in the country, I was the city boy
    up from Dallas to visit the farm, up to visit
    up to explore up to no good up to corrupt (those
    old ladies said behind their curtains) those
    country girls those twelve-year-old cowgirls
    who snuck beers behind the rodeo stands and
    those boys who talked about which cows were
    best who wondered what the hell I found so
    interesting about the damn grave yard and
    why did I always have a damn book with me
    and was I writing down notes to give their
    damn mothers or what.
    Summers in the country
    I was Huckleberry looking for Jim and a river
    I was Woody looking for a song and glory I was
    Meg trying to tesser and Davy trying to trap
    the perfect coon for the perfect hat and trying
    to get it all down on a backpocket steno pad
    taking shorthand on life and getting curiouser
    and curiouser about how my parents survived
    this damn town at all.
    Summers in the country
    I drove grandpa's air conditioned tractor
    while field hands bent double down the long rows
    sometimes singing chopping cotton always sweating
    everyone of them a philosopher of labor
    a poet of the machete an Odysseus
    making his way back home every one of them
    knowing more about the land than I ever would
    in a lifetime of summers in the country.

    Wild mustard

    for Mance

    Sudden sunlight steams the wild mustard,
    heavy headed with the vanishing mist,
    and for miles the scent makes the sodden heat
    worth enduring: windows down, elbow slung
    against the warm damp wind.

    All along this southern highway clouds
    rise out of the ground to surround treetop
    islands, each mysterious just so long
    as it takes the gray incensed fog to fade
    into the yellow light.

    One hot May morning thirty years gone
    I walked these Navasota bottomlands
    with old man Lipscomb: "I's up way early
    for a bluesman," and he laughed at the sun. We stood in that rich light

    until Mama's sausage and biscuits
    drew us inside to a day of stories
    and guitar licks I would never get right –
    not even understand until I smelled
    wild mustard in your hair.

    The silence inside the city

    I wait for sleep
    like some late bus
    with the A/C
    vents screwed tight
    and the windows
    opened wide to the night
    to the blatant moon
    filled like an autumn pie
    with memories –
    when the jazz begins
    to cut through the traffic,
    floating out from
    the neon-drenched cafes
    and acid-thin guitar licks
    sizzle down from some radio
    and some woman's talking
    too loud to God
    while a dumpster lid
    screeches open
    and shut
    open and
    and all I can hear
    is me thinking
    of you

    Where were you

    Where were you when
    the pecans fell and
    I crawled all afternoon
    alone among the mast

    to gather this late harvest
    together with the old tomcat
    who lay sunning himselfmissing your rare touch

    I wanted you when
    the shattered shells were
    scattered across the news-
    papers on our oldest table

    Where were you when
    the fall winds rattled
    sash on sill and whistled
    shrill as the memories

    that rise with the
    autumn aroma
    of these southern pies

    Trying not to fall

    for Joy Harjo

    There is a woman with a saxophone
    blowing the blues out of time
    raising tones like thunderheads
    and tones like lightning,
    tones like the gray mist
    rising on an Oklahoma river.

    There is a woman with a saxophone,
    golden horn handed down
    one prophet to another
    one shaman to the next
    beginning as a scrannel flute
    golden reed from the Chattahoochee
    drawn at dawn and cured inside
    a medicine bundle somewhere
    in America, somewhere
    in time
    flint carved its first song,
    the song of awakening
    after long sleep, after death.

    There is a woman with a saxophone
    breathing in the same air
    drawn through the sacred stem
    when no white hand had laid claim
    or shed blood anywhere
    in America.
    There is a woman with a saxophone,
    woman of wind and water
    blowing the blues out of time
    woman with hair like the raven
    that hangs in the sky calling the future
    as he sees it, hair blue
    blue as blackbird wings in sunshine
    with eyes like black holes
    in time, ends and beginnings
    quick as grace notes.

    There is a woman with a saxophone
    on the banks of the Muscogee
    rising into the cloud of her music
    rising like sacred smoke
    rising like stomp dance bonfire flames
    rising like warriors bound
    for the long paths of the milky way.
    There is a woman with a saxophone
    not to fall.

    Five Years Gone

    for Jane Kenyon

    Behind the house, Jane's garden is overgrown;
    between there and Eagle Pond only ghosts:
    trains that run silent over the grade's gray stones
    littered with rusted steel spikes, heavy bolts.

    Beside the lake, a favored spot, good for sun,
    good for water, only slightly wilder than
    Jane's garden where her spring ministrations
    kept the volunteer maples down, so eager
    to see the seasons in and out, in and out.

    Down the road a mile there is a stone where
    anonymous hands swap scraps of poetry
    and sea shells for pine cones, single ear rings
    or other scraps of poetry, some of it
    Jane's, mostly not, some taking, some giving.

    Just over the fence, a small apple tree drops
    the sweetest fruit I have ever tasted.

    His last pocketknife

    Granddaddy honed his pocketknives
    until their blades were slivered winter moons,
    black-backed silver crescents, razors but

    useless in the end, too fragile to carve.
    Old ones were retired to a cigar box
    beside his bed where they lay with his pipes,

    the blackened briars that killed him.
    He clutched a new knife with dead
    pallid fingers when we found him,

    chair rocked to the wall, his hourglass
    whetstone shattered on the porch,
    the black shards so thin

    they resembled the tea leaves in a bone
    china cup. All my life since I have honed
    his last pocketknife against too-soft stones.

    Visiting the Painter Lady:
    Canyon, Texas, 1917

    Once a week for six weeks, while farmboys died in France
    Pauline visited Georgia – packed up her precious paints,
    her half-finished flower scenes, cranked up the Model T
    and rattled down the rutted wagon track that led
    away west to the newly grated gravel road,

    gearing down and down toward the top of the one long hill,
    pausing there to catch a breath of wind and pretend
    for a moment that the scent of scrub cedar was sweet pine,
    then sailing the other side in neutral, fast enough to skim
    the sometime-quicksand crust of the Canadian River ford.

    Pauline spent an hour with the painter lady at the College,
    two neat brick buildings overlooking Palo Duro Canyon,
    that sudden red rift across tawny plains so stark
    as to inspire imagination in a fence post, just to fill in
    the colossal emptiness. Pauline painted scenes

    of mountain meadows she had never seen, portraits
    of unborn daughters in starched pinafores,
    a woman in a grass skirt with a ukulele. Georgia
    shaped colors: rich red rifts across tawny dreams
    beneath looming orchid skies.

    Reading Victoria's Secrets

    I. 1991

    I'll never know what Victoria wears
    beneath these vintage dresses,
    granny calicos hugging slim hips
    no granny ever had, with
    lacy necklines that dip too deep
    into my too macho imagination.

    Into this high school classroom
    she strolls hipper than I
    recall any hippies of twenty
    years back, her black eyes
    determined to tap
    her own rhythms

    though she fears they
    may be echoes only.
    Here they come, I think,
    the poems of young ennui
    of love and suffering
    and sure enough

    I have Victoria's secrets
    open before me, laid out
    like polished river stones
    each with a history.
    My desk strewn with desires
    and questions and power,
    I carefully select the blue pencil.

    II. 1993

    Into my college comp class she strolls
    with a sheaf of poems beneath
    her arm like an immigrant
    with her papers, proof of the right
    to be where no one should question
    her right to be.
    Cat like,
    ready to pounce or run
    weep or scream,
    equally confused and confusing.
    She has put her power somewhere
    she cannot reach. It is growing
    and cannot be edited.
    She will
    marry the bastard and vanish,
    leaving unfinished papers
    and poems smoldering
    like coals in my hands.

    III. 1995

    He beat her. The bastard
    raised his fist and hammered
    his frustrations home at home,
    claimed that he was the poet,
    not she.

    Then Victoria took this secret
    and wrung poetry from it like
    strong women have always wrung
    sex out of linens
    beside thousands of streams
    for thousands of years
    in the sight of the whole village.

    Victoria stood up in her black and silver,
    took to the microphone
    and dripped that man out of her soul
    one word at a time, out of her body
    until all the machismo infection
    was drained away.

    I know what Victoria is like
    beneath those vintage dresses:
    maid and maker,
    granite block and steel chisel,
    muse and mother,
    seething with
    secrets within
    secrets within

    Instructions for the funeral

    Find the right hill
    the highest, rockiest
    in this too flat land,
    that one north of town
    with no roads, no paths
    but water tracks

    Do your best to avoid
    the law; follow only
    the oldest conventions;
    especially avoid
    any professionals
    in the business of death

    Cut no living wood
    but seek out the scrub
    cedar brush blown down
    and weave a lattice couch,
    cover it with the old
    four-stripe Hudson Bay

    Lay me out in the morning
    in my oldest jeans
    and the red Guatemalan shirt
    with buffalo nickel buttons
    to provide the crows
    with whatnots


    the things that remain
    to remind us of what we were
    before we were without that
    which prompts us to remember,
    but here the monument is a thing
    of air, a column like Jehovah
    in the Sinai, first flame then nothing
    but smoke, dust and smoke.

    The monument
    in the mind is an emptiness
    in the air where once
    was flesh and blood,
    concrete and steel,
    but only the emptiness
    in the mind remains.

    The children gathered
    in this classroom have built
    the only monument that will remain,
    burnt it into their futures
    to keep as we have always kept
    the deaths of kings and presidents,
    astronauts and princesses,
    and old men making salt
    by the sea:

    "Where were you when ...?"
    "What were you wearing ...?"

    Steel is always simply steel,
    subject to the slow fires of rust,
    but this monument of smoke
    remains, terrible
    as Jehovah in the desert.


Excerpted from Lost and Certain of It by Bryce Milligan. Copyright © 2006 Bryce Milligan. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews