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Sarah Browning

About the Poet
Sarah Browning is co-director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness and DC Poets Against the War.

She is the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007) and co-editor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004).

She has received fellowships and prizes from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the Creative Communities Initiative, and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize.

She co-hosts the Sunday Kind of Love reading series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, where she lives with her husband and son.

Hot Priests

The calendar hangs on every souvenir stall in Rome,
beside Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck
circling Piazza Venezia on a Vespa.

January's a simple seminarian from Akron, but March
smolders in his love of the Lord. A sullen Fabio,
his long black hair is brilliantined, a two-day growth loves his chin.

I check out the live ones, who stride purposefully
in their gray-black-brown-white robes across
the cobbled alleyways and mad boulevards of the city.

Young, buff, from all the wondering Christian world,
they come to Rome. They study, pray, live in beloved community.
Once I start looking I cannot stop: peak-faced or angelic.

Senegalese. Korean. Filipino. Italian. Their robes swish -
they swish - with their devotion. I am so agog I quit muttering about buses,
reading the guidebook - how the Titus Arch celebrates Rome's pacification

of the Judaic people - to gaze at their hard backs. I can't help thinking
of all that Catholic flesh in the news. And the calendar pin-ups, are they
models or the real thing: beefcake, true and holy?

To top


Going to See the Caravaggios

The pretty, pouty boys
at the center of The Musicians,
on loan from the Met, are thick-lipped,
grumpy, sick of this sport of sitting.

They've sat already for Sick Bacchus
and Boy With a Basket of Fruit, hanging
here too at the Berea Museum in Milan,
on loan from Rome's Villa Borghese
where we hunted it down on the crowded
frescoed walls. One will be Medusa, too -
so feminine that mouth, and the snakes
androgynous enough for any critic.

Berea boasts just one Caravaggio
in its permanent collection:
A Supper at Emmaus, Christ
and his followers - as usual
some backs, some bread.
The older faces are the new
aesthetic, mortality lively
for once and on display
for the merchants and cardinals
who commissioned the scene.

But I turn back to the pretty boys,
drawn by men's desire for one another,
the boys' full lips parted as a woman's
would not be in 1602, their willingness
on display. I crowd with the Friday
afternoon horde of Italians who've come
to see this painting taken so far from them.

The boys are done with pretending
to play the lute. They are ready
for the real thing, the tumble,
twisted sheets, the cock,
painted lips full open. Their necks
are stiff from turning to watch
the artist who cannot
stop watching them.

To top


Coming After Me

When I telephone the nursing home
my mother cannot hear, though I yell and yell.
I yell the weather and the news - my son's

baseball that refuses to pass
directly over the plate. All the true
news I hold from her, as ever - despair

a curling leaf inside me. When last we
visited, Ben pushed her out on the terrace
in the heat. We found some shade

and began to sing, my mother's sure voice
the only thing she still carries. Twice
she requested Early One Morning

Oh don't deceive me. Oh never leave me.
And I thoughtless chose my favorites,
the ones she used to sing to me and I to Ben

We will miss your bright eyes
and sweet smile. A band of angels
coming after me, coming for to

carry me home. My mother can't hit
the high notes, there's no song
that sings her but of departure.

I try to steady her shaking hand in mine.
My son watches. He is kind with her,
but distant. He's not frightened by her

weakness, her slumped body, shaking hand.
He has learned the forms of love from me,
and I from her, how to bear up -
only singing in the face of it.


~ Sarah Browning
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