Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Julie Phillips Brown






Location is the long, long song.
Location is trouble.
Poetry itself is the practice of location.

– C. S. Giscombe

Doubtful about time, not to mention
place, I might like to point to a specific
somewhere, an origin—to claim belated
elsewheres, arrivals. But there is only
this practice of location—a homing
that happens through the shuffling
of questions, like too many cockle
shells cupped in a child’s palm:

How far have we come from home,
and where is the way back again?
What is a blessing, what is a mercy?
Whose hands kept us, held us, how?
With what did we make do?

Location depends upon a node:
the red of my son’s shovel and pail,
his blue wagon, wheelbarrow.
Location depends upon foci:
perhaps we remember the orbit
we ought to follow, even as
we forget the long, long
song of its gravity.




what does this key tell us
of the body’s tenderness?
bow softened by embossed
bronze curls, stem curved
by collar, throating, pin—bit
without key wards, a blank
answer for the lock


memory comes, a blank
answer for late questions:
how to hold or cherish our
loves against time; or, what is
it in the nature of a mother’s
embrace that keeps us clasped,
still as a conch shell cameo


still as a conch shell cameo,
I hold my body—collarbone,
throat, these pinions—and listen,
how breath leaches from cellular
folds, becomes voice, becomes
the jewelbox peaked open:
turn back, turn, turn back


turn back, turn, turn until
you find your way to the center
of the lock, clear the mechanism
the friction the grave imperfections;
call through the hollow, hallow us,
low us, now, on mossened ground
this hour, our arms, the bower



Two Stones

            for Deborah Miranda


Before the light leaves us, I tumble two
stones, the ones you brought me, in hand.

It has been too many days since we’ve met.
I watch green turn to night-scumbled shades,

climb the hill toward a line of oaks. Faint sun
passes through, umber green to ochre gold.

I want to be sure of bluing mountains,
their canopy of firs free of human complaint—

to look out in every direction, tell you
I do not know what knowledge

or feeling you have bestowed, but to repay
you would be an errant economy.



I found it possible to still myself,
the heart stones in my palm chittering

against one another, inscribing the harmonics
of planetary space on the skin of my palm.

I held them to chin and cheek, passed them
over the small hairs of my earlobes

to feel their warm music. They traveled
my skin with ease. I held the stones

over my breast: one thin, one full-chambered
and rounded like an animal heart.



I looked into hollow beneath the trees
this morning: two white-speckled fawns,

one deep in shadow, and one weaving
through the low limbs of green.

I asked them where was their mama,
and looked, failing, to find her.

In the mornings, the clearing is warm
like this, and shaded, curved like a womb.

I linger on the rhododendron, try to see
through the holly, spruce, and honeysuckle.

I might lay my neck in clover. I keep my distance.
I know it is a place for animals.


Photograph of Julie Phillips Brown by Wendy Lynch Redfern.

Julie Phillips Brown is a poet, critic, painter, and book artist. Her first book of poems, The Adjacent Possible, won the 2019 Hopper Poetry Prize and will be published by Green Writers Press in 2021. Her poems and essays have appeared in Borderlands, Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Denver Quarterly, Interim, Jacket2, Plume, Twyckenham Notes, Vinyl, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She is the founding editor of House Mountain Review, named for the peaks near her home in Lexington, Virginia, where she teaches creative writing, literature, and studio art. Find her at More from this author →