Besmirl Brigham

This is to me a difficult pseudonym for Bess Miller (Moore) Brigham, a poet who opted to spell her name phonetically. instead of Bess Miller Brigham, she used the more colloquial “Besmilr” because it was closer to the way people spoke in Arkansas, where she mostly lived.

I found this poem, describing what happened to a poisonous water moccasin (also called cottonmouth) after a tornado, in a book of essays by Forrest Gander. The syntax and typography are a little difficult, a little tornado wracked, but the image of the snake’s fangs embedded in its own body is pretty vivid:

moccasinHeaved From the Earth

after the tornado, a dead moccasin
nailed to the pole
boards scattered across a pasture

lying fierce crosses
jagged in mud

had flung itself
nail and wood
the square-head animal
hurled also in air

or as it raced in weeds
)water flowing, water falling
xxxxboth the snake and timber
went flying through the wind

coiled, made a coil (they do
immediately from danger or when hurt
and died in a coil
bit itself in pain of its own defense the poison

xxxxbothhurled into yard
xxxxbothone with feet tangled gripping
xxxxboththe open wire, a big Jay

struggling from the water
throwing its fanged head
high at the lightning, silent
in all that thunder

to die by its own mouth
pushing the fire thorns in

Besmirl Brigham

C. D. Wright, who published a posthumous collect of Brigham’s work, described Brigham and her husband as “the last free people. They hadn’t been broken by the life they had chosen, which was itinerant and subsistent. They treated their life like an adventure and her work like a staple, like beans.” Wright also described the Brighams as having about thirty cats and storing poetry books in old, broken appliances in their shed.

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