Mark Jay Brewin, Jr.

Every Night Since Viana

-Isaiah 47:3

So God promised, “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.”
But I did not heed His word, and peaked from my hostel bunk

to glimpse a land flowing with milky skin and honey thighs,
perhaps the twin pearls of freckled, French breasts. Paradise, or

so God promised. “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.”
And truly He has. No zaftig beauties, just bare candor:

pockmarked flesh, tufts of coarse hair, nude men. Other pent up, stiff-
necked pilgrims with boils and sores. Nothing to covet here.

“Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered,”
so God promised. “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.”



On Locks

That a padlock should bind their love forever
is a godawful gesture, or so I say to my fiancé,
tramping the bridge over the rio Ebro and into
Logroño, dozens of key-fixed shackles along
the chest-high, chain-link rails. This practice,
this everlasting belief, first begun beside the Seine
now above the waters in any known city, and on
any day, somewhere in the world, one lover
clasping their stainless steel emblem, the other
pitching their keys in the current below. I do
not understand it, I confess and reach for her
wine glass and fill it, our rucksacks slumped
together by the cold hearthstone of the tapería.
Once my father phoned me to explain how my
mother left him for a man with an in-ground pool
in North Carolina; he chose his words carefully,
more so than I’d ever known him to, and he
went on to say how he wasn’t so good to her
at their beginnings, that it was just another manic
spell, that he was hoping to get back the money
they put down the week earlier on a time share.
All he needed was just one more chance to tell
her he was sorry for his young nights of cards
and more beers than he needed at Pat & Ralph’s
Pizzeria all those years ago. He kept repeating
that he just wanted her back, about how he was
struggling with the last thing she said before
bolting the door behind her: that he was a terrible
kisser, hated the way their lips met, every time.

My mother would later blame her bipolar disorder,
admit she couldn’t comprehend how any of her
children couldn’t see it was just a slip of her brain
chemistry, that she never wanted to leave him.
Why would she ever want to throwaway the best
things in her life, she still says to me on holidays,
her perfect family, her house, or her true love?
When my father gets a few drinks in him, he tells
my fiancé that she’d do the same, take me back
if ever I committed a marital sin. And I can’t say
that he’d be wrong, just that I hope he is. Blame
my pride. Blame my ugly pettiness, because
I know that if she were to ever leave to lock arms
with another man, I don’t think I could ever
plead for return or welcome her home. It’s easier
to feel absolution than to absolve. While the eternal
city embraced much of the known world as its own,
it was a practice for affluent Romans to hold their
treasures in ancient safes, to wear the keys as rings
on their fingers, and this is where the bridge-fixed
Masters inform us of a different lesson: the sin
of possession. What is love if not the wish to want
someone free, which risks the freedom to walk
away. Not a prison or commodity, but vulnerable
and inherently on the brink of failure. It sickens
me to say how disgusted I was with how my father
forgave my mother so quickly, or pity for when she
attempted suicide two days later. Maybe the mystery
of the heart and head isn’t the way one impairs
the other, but the need for them to reach out
and connect at all. The balance. The pin tumblers,
bittings, and springs. Locksmiths disclose the faults
of their work, the undermining of skeleton keys
and picks, in order to build and tweak a purer bond,
but there are no blueprints or better ways to fortify
our love, to better cage or callous it from ache.

This drab-gray afternoon, my fiancé and I split
a media ración, and rattling down the side-street, chain
and lock of a market closing for siesta. Again,
we have hoofed into another unfamiliar city,
still struggling to comprehend the habits, whatever
it takes to find comfort for the few hours we exist
together, in this new place. Mass each evening
for the townspeople. Curfews for the albergues
and hostels, sleeping bags and sweatshirts balled
for a pillow; ten o’clock, and deadbolts barred
on the old, timber doors until just before dawn.
This routine, this life elected for a few months,
to walk beside one another, to speak openly
or say nothing at all for hours, to share our wine
and sunflower seeds. Those days when I watched
her heave and ramble up the steep slope of a hill, I
wanted to carry her each step, give her my breath,
my stronger ankles. Those days when I could
barely walk on my bruised feet, she’d work herself
under my arm, lift me, lug my bag, move us
farther along the trail. And this love cannot be
so very different from the one between my parents.
His forgiveness a key I’ve not yet been given;
her brief wandering, the slip of Oxytocin which
couldn’t be helped, now locked over rough waters
behind them. I’m buried in a memory—my father
bending to the fruit-laden canes of raspberries
in our field, years ago, me as a boy by the window,
watching him, unblinking, and somehow my mother
with me, whispering without noticing how loud
she spoke about how much she loves him, if he
even knows it—when my fiancé lifts our clasped
hands to her cheek, and I understand that we all
must palm the dull, burdensome fear of infidelity
before tossing it away. There is nothing so cold,
so sinkable in us. Not our love or soul. The locks
clipped to the rails, not a symbol of relationships,
but each weakness we must pin behind us, abandon,
the bridges buckling under the weight of failings.
The river rising, flooding the banks from every key.

Mark Jay Brewin, Jr., won the 2012 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry of the University of Utah Press for his first book manuscript, Scrap Iron. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Antioch Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Hollins Critic, Copper Nickel, Southern Humanities Review, Poet Lore, North American Review, Greensboro Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the MFA program of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.