Brad Liening Poems




Centripetal Force


Everything’s fine at the funeral

till the fire fighters rush through.

Or cops raid the wedding reception,

the captain tackling the bride’s mother.

Particulars may vary but it’s the catalysts

that remain buried in the mazes of some

mix up, as in did you just say that you

desperately need a tuxedo or a burrito?

The difference isn’t so much the series

of chasms famous for its suicides but

rather the frost heaves ticking by on

the highway.  Five hundred miles away

from me my brother adds to the city’s

graffiti before passing out, six hours later

he’s holding the keys to the university’s

collection of irradiated rabbits that he

feeds before administering cocaine to

the mice.  Surely some good will come

of this.  Surely these doctors want to

make us well and not keep us sick,

a hacking clientele that they wish would

just go away so they themselves could

call in sick, stay in their pjs and binge

on daytime soaps.  Surely this is one of

many feasible conditions so let’s focus

instead on constructing that skyscraper,

mending the levee, disinfecting the cut

and getting a frozen steak on that badass

shiner you got.  Is this the result of the

defense of another’s honor or is this

the evidence of an ill-fated attempt at

being a wind tunnel?  Don’t feel bad.

I too have tried to be a manmade force

of nature and like you I too believe

we’re at the front of the pack that heaves

itself headlong into the immense wall of ice. 

Oof!…Ssshh.  Listen closely for the

faint beginnings of a breaking apart.







People get concerned when the ravine

begins boiling with ants and the school

slides in the rankings but the baseball team

keeps winning so there’s no point

in getting greedy.  At the diner they

screw up your order and you get

more hash browns than you paid for.

Gold-veined water lily.  Sugared almonds

in a paper cone stuck to a paper cone

of sugared almonds, all our guests

this week will receive complimentary busts

of Copernicus on the veritable precipice

of revelation.  Thank you you’re welcome

shining sun but we all know the story there.

Let’s pass out some plaques instead, in honor

and recognition of etc.  Hello enormous tree.

Crumbling slum with cracked storefronts

fast deteriorating infrastructure via un-

traversable boulevards, you’re still around

so here you go.  Hello grandmother

outliving your husband three kids and

four of six grandchildren all of whom

were rapidly evacuated a few years ago,

got stranded in a motel or with someone’s

aunt whose awful cooking got worse while

the collars of everyone’s shirts got greasier,

watching the local news reports about

the derailed train in the center of town

leaking gasses that were bound for the center

of a mountain, gasses later found to be no more

pernicious than a fog of dandelion seed.

Plaque for all that though who could forget

the haz-mat men on porch swings.

The fluttering biohazard tape strung among

the Christmas lights around the maples.

The baseball team making it all the way

to state finals for a decade straight without

winning once, the spacious trophy case like

grandmother’s crinkled-paper smile, a barn

buckling into an alfalfa field by the town limit.

Oh no an angry line of ants is coming this way.

Oh no another red cloud descends.





Luminiferous Ether


There – where the skinny kid

who’s last in his class claps

as the curtain is about to go up

on the cardboard-desert scene


where a child dressed as a rabbit

runs from a child dressed as a wolf

while in the dim parents beam

or shift their weight in metal seats


trying to remember to pick up flowers

or dry cleaning, the night janitor

smoking out back by the dumpsters

until the wolf seizes the rabbit – the end.


At least this isn’t the play where

the child is pretend-beaten and then

pretend-crucified, after that I just stared

into the warm mess of my soggy cereal,


turning my spoon over to hear it plop.

Back when I could run fast it seemed

like astronauts served an important purpose

like a group of well-trained porpoises


though I must confess that they both seem

like so much less now, the way they all just

float around, astronauts in blue jumpsuits

waving through grainy images to all of us


back here on planet Earth where worms

tear through the soil introducing oxygen

into the soil and the plants leaking oxygen

as they suck up our exhalations, though


a little bit of everything is invariably lost

into the atmosphere.  Most of us don’t need

tubes or helmets or special boots or at least

not in our daily lives.  I can see the stars fine.


I can see the earth too.  I can see you lose

your train of thought, order another drink,

weep into your crumpled green jacket

as if to drown it, the rest of us drifting off


one by one.  Most of us were once something

to make a minor fuss over, an okay excuse

for twisted crepe paper and plastic forks.

In another, say, seven hundred years


we’ll all be in the same place again, i.e.

ashes and/or dust, which will break down

into their smaller constituents, which

according to exhaustive empirical evidence


is absolute proof that although now invisible

we once were not, which is why when placed

in a glass of water tiny particles of pollen

won’t ever settle to the bottom.






Brad Liening is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  He currently resides in Iowa City.





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