Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Bryan Byrdlong





The Brooms

– after One Impression by Yona Harvey

They insist that he is looking down on us from heaven
and yet, I can’t help but notice, standing at the front
of the church we are actually staring down at him, comely
in a casket’s cocoon, childlike in a black suit—

As we take our seats the pastor drips stoicism from his lips,
apparently feeling himself, he tries to go two for one on souls
for God, does an altar call and gets mine. My cousin having just
died, I wasn’t taking any chances with the death that day. Though

after the funeral it isn’t long before I have seller’s remorse,
and then, it is a long time until I feel like buying into anything
again—I tell myself if we had still been in Haiti, there wouldn’t
have been a funeral. Instead, a symbolic grave, instead

a burying up to the neck in superstitious earth, the zombi
being his disease, the zombi being the hearse tricked into
remaining while my cousin is freed, pulled from the dirt
like a stalk of bunchgrass, no rootedness, but a harvest

of him, a buying of his beige, his brownish-purple
back from the dead, from the spirit of the recently dust—
And yet, my family did not go late at night to the intersection
of two roads to cut a check, make payment. My cousin

did not lie on top of the tomb, but inside, unable to hear
no healer to sweep his body with a broom, to brush away
the negative, no bristles moving x, x, x to mark him as clean,
cleansed— And so, to keep the faith, I tell myself that in rooms

all across this land; across this world there are brooms, which
the grieving, hopeful use to sweep t, t, t, like little crosses, c,c,c
like crescent moons, stars of all stripes in that internal place
made pristine, as a ritual, sigil, sign, just in case someone is looking.


First Person Plural

We / not a boat people / rather / water

undammed / a waiting hurricane /ADAM

ADAMADAM bursting / sons & daughters

pouring over the walls / the best laid plans

Ready or not / Re:Fugees / No calm eye /

we wind whipping wasp nests under the eaves—

No warning / No breeze / Our team with no I

teeming across horizons like the eve

Nou / a new storm / each drop bearing a name

Evens / Fabienne / Junior /Widelene

& negotiating with that same / same

on shore / those amber waves of grain—

Cousin / what category of longing is this

to have brought us so far from genesis?


Photograph of Bryan Byrdlong by Cherline Bazile.

Bryan Byrdlong is a Black writer from Chicago, Illinois. In high school, he was part of Chicago’s Louder than a Bomb poetry slam competition. He graduated from Vanderbilt University where he received an undergraduate English/Creative Writing degree and was the co-recipient of the Merrill Moore Award for Poetry upon graduation. He has been published in the Nashville Review, Apogee Journal, Pleiades Magazine, and the Kenyon Review. Most recently, he is the Boulevard Magazine 2020 Contest for Emerging Poets winner. He is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writer's Program at the University of Michigan and an incoming PhD in Creative Writing and Literature Student at USC. More from this author →