From I Am Trying to Love the Whole World

Jenny Browne



then Rilke says the work for which all other
work is but preparation & so I try again

to love even the way my husband
——–mistakes the word magnanimous. Listen

I explain, if a grizzly bear clacks its teeth
——–huffs, woofs or slaps the ground

then we know we are standing too close.
——–The bear may appear immense

but not magnanimous. Great of soul
——–& generous of mind defines neither

my husband’s predatory snoring inside the tent
——–nor my sore resentment.

Not the iceberg of our occasional silence
——–until we back up enough

for the Titanic of us to pass. I don’t
——–really mean that. Doomed or not

I have come to love even the cracked
——–hull of long marriage. I have read

how the Chinese character for demolish
——–can be mistaken for firewood

monogamy for mahogany, slow to burn
——–but we know which way

smoke grows. I am still trying to love
——–the whole world without having to

break it into human-sized pieces, but the nickel
——–of cheek your beard never quite

reaches. Forgive us for beginning this voyage
——–too proud to ask for directions.

From time to time we still lose the plot
——–so you take my hand to trace

a greater bear from stars, then look
——–me up & down as if sketching

the newest lines on my face, not unkindly
——–so much as exactly, magnanimous

as dusky air, the last orange in the cooler
——–we peel to share.



the way we loved those desert towns
we passed through without imagining

who else we might have been
or broken there. Each

unfinished sentence interrupted
by the dry hump of thunder. Each

pecan in the orchard dropping hints.
Let’s make a spell for the return trip.

Whisper bonefire easysad foreverever.
Sometimes the past best stay

a distant persistent ringing.
Sometimes a country song

about starting over with
the volume turned down.

If you can imagine passing someone
on this road, you might also imagine

sitting next to it all day then all night
trying to learn the difference

between the ones who will feed you
& the ones who will eat you. Wind

like a long sadness not meant to save.
Tumbleweeds make a great refrain.


Jenny Browne’s most recent book is Fellow Travelers: New and Selected Poems, Volume 17 in the TCU Press Texas Poet Laureate Series. She has received the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and her poems and essays have appeared widely, including American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Boston Review, Copper Nickel, Garden and Gun, Oxford American, The Nation, The New York Times and Tin House. She teaches at Trinity University and lives in San Antonio, Texas. In Spring 2020 she was the Distinguished Fulbright Scholar in Creative Writing at Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens University, Belfast Northern Ireland.


Image: “Sea Level” by Lawrence Bridges


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