"CONTRITION" — PRAIRIE SCHOONER, SPRING 2013
My father doesn't understand—
why my sister puts a needle into
her bloodstream to feel feelings.
He is of old St. Louis, its slow alleys,
its crawling river. Pistols, he gets,
and Budweisers, what burns under
the hood of a Ford but not this fine
specimen of hypermagical continuous.
Dad sees things plain and stubborn,
not with my distant, simple eyes,
not with Mom’s sense of shame.
I want to write the story easier
than silence, in the soft language
of greeting or fridge magnets, so even
grandparents and cousins can get it.
I see students every day. I wonder
where their easy, logical choices
will lead them. I drive the roads
to work in Atlanta. They’re beaten
shit-brown and hard black. They’re ready,
I think. I hear the hurt in Mom's voice.
Dad says, please, I don't often talk about it.
And Jane, she is the poorest of spirit.
This, I tell him, is what it means to be blessed.
"THE KNIFE COLLECTOR" — NASHVILLE REVIEW, SUMMER 2013
Monday night, I sprain my ankle
playing ball. And I keep playing.
At my place, my foot swells brown
around the heel, black in the toes.
Mom calls. Her voice is afraid.
My sister hasn’t come home in days.
Last time, they found her
emptied car before picking her up.
At three a.m., I wake up, take a piss,
feel blood stutter down my leg,
through the lumped bruises. Back in bed,
my foot throbs like a dying fish.
The log of my body writhes over
a dull fire spreading nervously.
I curse until it eases, enough
I dream of my father
and his knife collection. Each one
with a smooth handle—whale bone
or steel, bearing alien monograms.
He sits on a squeaky, wooden chair,
chews Red Man, hones a warm blade.
He spits and says, keep this here fine,
and you won’t even feel it go through.
THE KNIFE COLLECTOR, FUTURECYCLE PRESS — NOVEMBER 2013
“The Knife Collector is one of the most striking first collections I have read. His poems are clear-eyed and, often dreamlike, as they carry the reader through landscapes half-familiar while igniting something deeper than memory. Indeed, Breite’s work depends on the elemental just as much as it does biography—this is not a mere collection of anecdotes, but a poetry that works for all it can give, a set of truths made more believable and more significant via a masterful blending of the real and the mythic.”
—William Wright, senior editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology and author of Night Field Anecdote
"BLUE JAY" — TAR RIVER POETRY, FALL 2013
He sits out on the fence—the ole fat-bellied
sheriff of the backyard. He don’t mess around,
dressed to serve, protect, take shot
at squirrel, barricade his nut-hungry path.
O bird, save us from bugs: eat the termites.
Drive off hovering dragonfly, goonish mosquito.
Dive at the mailman who offers only bills.
Save mama from her libraries of worry.
Keep pop from his beer-bubbled smugness.
Steal my sister’s smoke. Stave off the cancers.
Bathe in the rippled cement of our hearts.
Lead us far from the moon’s gravity.
Forgive our mispronounced passions.
Let us not fail our oracles, our loan checks.
Fly up the pine and croon to Moses
of stony hearts, strung minds, marbled soul.
"CRAZY MARY & THE SHARECROPPER'S SON" — CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW, 2016
Maybe she thought that easy line—
Whatever you want to do is alright with me—
was for her, Mary Woodson White,
perhaps it was for her—the one who walked
into Al Green’s Memphis mansion,
to find her sometime lover on a Friday?
Maybe it was because four months earlier,
“Let’s Get Married” shot up the charts,
and she waited for a parallel lyric,
something more than the skinny shirtless man
pulling a fantasy gun on Greatest Hits ’75?
Whatever moved her, it must’ve been
a torrid spell—only got by scalding grits
flung on his back while he settled in a warm tub
and by a bullet, right then, to her own head—
and it must’ve been hell enough to drop him
to his knees at his sharecropper daddy’s church,
to raise him up in the Full Gospel Tabernacle
for the rest of his free-born days—how
the last words she wrote—The more I trust you,
the more you let me down—became the one
note he could never choose to give up.
"HELM" — TERRAIN, MAY 2018
"LIFTED" — NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, 2018
"FISHING THE CADDO" — RUMINATE, WINTER 2019
We never owned a boat, but we dreamed
of boats when we dipped our hands
in the river. My father taught me to stand,
to gaze into water. On the banks
we waited for something, but it wasn’t a boat.
We knew that it went into the water,
that it would come out, that the black Nissan
truck drove hard, snarled on the route.
Dad flipped his wrist, taught me to throw
a little tooth with invisible line
to invisible water, that it could grow weight.
The spears we held gave us a language
we wrote in the air. As we sat, Dad pulled
worms from dirt, fit them to the hook.
If you set it right, he said, there is no pain—
not for the worm, not for the fish.
When I stuck my fist in the whiskery cage,
the crickets sang my skin alive.
And still we waited—what we pulled
from the river was the river—liquid muscle,
speckled with our fingertips. Some fish
transfigured in the sunlight. We held them
as long as we could before giving them back.
"ABSTRACTED STOOD" — RHINO, APRIL 2020
“and for the time remained stupidly good” - Paradise Lost, Book IX
Always a pause before the dazzle
after the brink, a blank.
The thing that awes you, stuns you,
plants the wow in your mouth.
Always the space before what comes,
departs. The line is where
you sign your name. Threshold,
your choice. The fruit
you juice—what curls your tongue.
Say what you saw, saw what you can
right down through the eye
of the wood, the pith of the trunk.
But it’s lost as soon as you find
the beauty of beauty’s invisible
bridges. Call it the wind
that hides you, the breeze
that forgives. Call it the sky blue
sky that proceeds, finishes
through feeling, hinge of
the marvelous—what opens
what closes. Call it the woman’s face—
the one you love or the one
you hardly know, that leaves you
before what happens next.