The Localist

From there you could see the whole town: tear it down. Tear it down.
-Mike McGriff

To preserve the town, first turn your back
on the world. Lose yourself completely.
Then begin to undress in a creaking

hotel where the floorboards each speak
resonances to you, & their shifting
makes clear your small town tectonics.

Forget vows of marriage. Leave your suit,
tie, & swank attire at the cleaners on Main
where they ruin each piece to keep you from leaving.

Stay as long as you can—which is to say
let the town enter you every time you leave it
bound for better places. Have a speed trap

in mind from which to retrieve memory
as when arrested: the true story of how
the girl you loved dreamed of loving

women, though her Methodist folks kept this
bottled for years. Write today how the blonde
arc of her hair pulled across either eye

was like parentheses around semi-colons
—or her cheerleader’s sway down the hall
in high school walking past your locker.

Will she ever date me if I don’t play football
but am great at trumpet?
you wondered
while staring. Sex felt impossible.

Now it’s the little things you return for:
onion rings at Sonic, Blizzards at Dairy
Queen, one last drive past the house

where you found Annalise & her girlfriend
kissing: the brief rapture of that. The plain
truth. The beauty. Re-remember

your friends who were not themselves here
for years until leaving: which you, too, understand.
Poetry was a way to get girls to date you

in Yearbook & college. You remained a virgin
well into your 20s. & yet when asked about desire
in a future interview, you will say you return

to what feeling meant here: that unchecked fire
in your chest which, when lit, burned the whole
goddamn town down. Disappeared it. Everything.

J. Scott Brownlee is the author of Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, a finalist for the National Poetry Series and winner of the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize. He’s also the author of the prize-winning chapbooks Highway or Belief (2013 Button Poetry Prize), Ascension (2014 Robert Phillips Prize), and On the Occasion of the Last Old Camp Meeting in Llano County (2015 Tree Light Books Prize). He lives in Philadelphia and is a core faculty member for Brooklyn Poets.