Brandon Rushton

Brandon Rushton is the winner of the 2016 Gulf Coast Prize and the 2016 Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry. His poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, CutBank, Sonora Review, and Passages North. He co-founded the poetry journal Oxidant | Engine. Born and raised in Michigan, he now lives and writes in Charleston, South Carolina and teaches writing at the College of Charleston.


Pioneer Replacement Theory


On the first morning of the new world

they reshaped it in the image of the old

and you are still furious over the reallocation


of fact. Of the misremembering they’ve come

to accept as truth, whatever little un-relentless

desire there is to tell a story and, then, doctor


each retelling. It is another year in a series

of sad years but luckily the elevator’s certified.

This is the way you navigate the rise and fall


of your days, skeptical of ascension and a little

light in the stomach. Due to a lack of free space

the emergency exit is just for looks. They all look.


The last frontier must involve frequency and you think

you see some insect communicate this to another.

It is your impulse to assume the rush of hooves


but it’s the approaching thrum of silence, a stampede

of so much absence of sound




The new authority initiates a program for repurposing

the predecessors. They do not find it funny,

your suggestion to cast them all as puppets.


You’re told theatrics are best when they’re directed

at an audience. So, you save your weeping

for the street. There seems to be this growing sense—


you’ll call it irritation—for the way one speaks

with their extremities. What can you say? You are yourself

only an extension, you are both the driver and the device


you use to drive across the country. You are of an age

when the greatest distance can be travelled

in a day. You want to be there and back


before any thought of bed. Needing to play sad

you make believe you occur simultaneous and sudden.

Like the events of any good year, depicted


in an ancient hieroglyph. You exist, do not exist,

but certainly, and only, all at once.




It must be asking too much to seek what’s simple.

A little life in the country with a restriction

on such loudness. You got old and out


of nowhere and now re-invite nonsense

back into your noggin. You realize in the late hour

it is akin to necessity, like a drawbridge rising


in the evening to let the fog pass through.

You watch the townsfolk wear their funny hats

into the cold and consider the hilarity of being


with the moon, alone without machine. Happiness

never takes the belt from its slacks to strangle itself.

You learn everything the hard way. You can leave for a bit


and then come back but the thing you leave

will not remain as it did before. Your ambition

is an open space and an open space


is prime for pursuing with all intent to apprehend.

You apprehend with an indifferent face, de-mask

the fleeting figure with respectful care, but


to no surprise, find you’ve only been in competition

with what—embarrassingly enough—was never there.




In order to re-cultivate common curiosity

you’re told to leave yourself out in the wind

and see how fast it withers. You are just as docile


and unimportant as you were the day before.

You learn everything wrong the first time

so you can re-convince yourself of the necessity


of conversation. A seed sprouts and grows

into something flexible, also statuesque and silent.

You save everything you need to say in jars


and pretend this is how to anticipate aridity

and—in turn—survive. Someone claims

there’s a kind of work you’re not cut out for.


Your busyness is the result. You pass a people

who you suspect expect an older traveler

except this time the traveler they’ve been expecting


is the traveler they see. It’s time to accept

there are drastically different definitions

of plain. They say: wide open grassland.


You say: a person lacking character. You equivocally pivot

into place and reinvent a posture




In an effort to interrupt the invisible

vicinity, you wave a stick and separate

the air. You centralize yourself in order


to accept your status as addition. Aftermath

is the word you use to describe the disbelief

that numbers—if they exist—existed before


your ability to label them as such. Governance

is airtight and fills the room around you. You imagine

the final open space and then yourself


at an observable distance. There is a newness

under-construction and all you have to do

is look inside. It overtakes the township


road by road. Grows a little wider every day.

It becomes the community, but the community

disavows it. It then becomes a dilemma.


Everybody borders on becoming

something new, but, to your dismay, old

recognizes old and nods. You look for the nearest


trinket to represent your trouble. You shake

your little globe and marvel at its thunder,

your overwhelming inability to explain


the lake coming in through the door locks.

You are the automobile on the water

and all the things you say to yourself inside it.


There is no word for the sound you want

to make at a streetlight, on a street

lonesome for traffic




This is the point on the path where image

will only diminish the picture. You reshape

the room from the sound of their absence from it.


The cycle goes on as is expected. You develop,

erect, and then demolish. You stand upon a hillside

and consider the bodies that it harbors.


They, unlike you, have nowhere left

to roam. This was supposed to be the place

of pioneers. This is where you’ll sit for a while.


This is where you’ll have a disingenuous cry

beside the bones. As bone turns into building

you understand the budding is not for bees.


Some animal sniffs another animal’s remains

and chooses to retreat. It hides and hopes

the heartbreak doesn’t last. You wake and watch


the sun rise as expected, then set, as is its usual way.

If you’re not happy now you realize you will never be.

This is your last attempt to exercise the human


from the self.  It is the sadness you unsaddle

and slap free

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