Buzzcut

“I got debts no honest man could pay”   — Johnny 99, Bruce Springsteen

Months since my
last haircut

Money’s so short 
that a few dollars means so much
I stay shaggy to save what I can

but how I long for a buzzcut again

so I won’t have to fret
over care and time
when I’m on the hunt
for scraps

Also if I could have no hair at 60
at last I wouldn’t have to listen
to my mother at 92
praising my curls as she
has never praised
anything else about me
not a word I’ve written
not a thing I’ve done
or my father at 87 
asking me
back when I wore it long
why I did not braid it
as he used to do his own

How I looked
occupied so much of their time
for so much of their time
a competition to see how close I could get
to who they wanted me
to seem
to be

A friend of mine once shaved
twenty years’ growth of locks
I asked him why and he said
all that time and weight 
locked up energy
he needed for other things 

Man I wish a buzzcut
could lift my load
from the top of my head

Put a dollar in my wallet
against these debts
no honest man could pay

If I’m to be an honest man
I think I was born
to pay my parents’ debts

I know I could lie a bit
and get free of all this

Let the wind flow
over my scalp
on my way out of this town
to anywhere else

But where would I go
where their debts wouldn’t follow
Not Italy
Not New Mexico
Neither Rome nor Mescalero
Not Providence

Not NYC

Run your fingers through my hair
All you’ll feel
is what’s underneath

A memory
of the rare times
I gave loss
nothing to work with


Bread And Circuses

my bread
and my circus
are better than
your bread
and your circus
are better than
foreign loaves and
alien balancing acts

better than 
beignets and 
jugglers
better than
croissants and
tiger tamers

I’m mesmerized
by my nacho chips
and quarterbacks
while you stare
at clearly inferior
donuts and
metal bands

to hell with all the bread
and all the circuses
in the world that aren’t 
mine —

despite how similar
the bakers
and the ringmasters
appear


Good Morning America

Here’s a lifestyle report
about grocery stores
that serve liquor to shoppers.

It’s so civilized, smiles the reporter.

Here’s a spokesperson 
for one of the stores in question
who recounts the story of a customer
who bought a crown roast of lamb
and then had to find room in her freezer
because she bought it
with no idea of what to do with it
and didn’t want to throw it out.

Here is everyone
smiling and nodding.

Somewhere
in a very stuffed freezer
sits everything
you need to understand
where we are now. 


Scanning

Endlessly scanning
the car radio
seeking music
I don’t recognize.
 
Roll the window down
near every food cart
trying to guess what
they’re serving.
 
People ask why
I would ever want to do these things.
Why listen to music
you don’t know and like already?
 
Why allow the smell
of something foreign in?
Such an all-American
trait to assume
 
that the air around you
should only hold
your favorite scents
and sounds —
 
and while we’re at it,
to hell with your earbuds:
let the world in,
you cowards.

Dissolution

To become as small as I can get
in their presence. That’s my goal
for when I see them at last.

I want to stand before whatever survived
the slow dissolution of flesh and bone
and look up to them.  I want them 
to feel like the giants they are to me

as I kneel 
and fold myself up
and call them grandmother,
grandfather;  

other names beyond those,
names for the distant ones.

I want to know those names
so badly I would 
give up my own.

 


In case you’re interested….

The fine online journal for the small poetry press world, “The Poetry Question,” just published this short article I wrote for their ongoing series, “The Power Of Poetry.”  Take a look and follow them, if you wish, on Twitter or Facebook,  I thank them for the opportunity.

The Power Of Poetry #92: Tony Brown


Terraformed

Do or stop all doing,
be dead or be changed into
another’s expectation;

I’m in awe of how far
they’ve pushed me
into their pattern.
They’ve killed part of me, 
believing death will spread
and give them life.  

I’ve been made
into something useful 
to another…yet

under the alien soil
where they’ve buried me,
I’m still alive, opening space
around my feared body, and

soon enough
will come raging out
into their smug faces
and remind them

that the surface
they prize so much
is just that.


BigDumbNoise

The lure of 
that which is meaningless
to my larger concerns

is that there could be 
relief
available for the
weight:

a jack to lift
what’s crushing me
off my chest

So therefore bring on
the dumbest TV and 
the loudest three chords
you’ve got

as now and then
the Big Dumb Noise
is all there is
to ease the pain

of complexity 
ambiguity
and the solid leaden
grays 

that seem to be 
my ruling principles
my heavy core


Neuropathy Blues

A guitar neck just feels
like more of my nerve-drunk hand.

The strings burn graves
into my dead fingertips.

The volume knob turned too far
spikes my fear of exposure.

If I sound insecure to others
about how it feels to play,

it is because these raging nerves
are what I know of my hands lately,

and lately my guitar is where they go
to fail and (soon enough) to die.

The pain on the day after:
history informing the future.

Music comes from
the place between those things.

All my apologies flow
from how every broken arpeggio

climbs a ladder leading 
to a day when I will have to stop

all of this, or when I am
at last stopped. 

Till then, though?
Till then, I am yours.


Grain Of Sand

I have so little 
to give

except my life

which I do not
routinely consider

large or of value

although in its current size
and worth it may serve

as grain of sand in a precision machine

as killing germ or worm 
as parasite in an evil host

You grab me by the arms
and shake me
and your own head
saying no no no
you have so much to live for
and so much more about you 
is golden than you know

Hush
Be still 

As sand or virus
I take part
in cosmic order
in a time when stopping
the Machine or slaying
a Host bent on death
is truly all
we all have left to do

and you say
no no no
to my being
even a nameless piece
of how that happens

Try to be serious

It would be an honor
to be forgotten
to be anonymous
in the future

for that would mean
that I and the rest of 
the nameless who say

let them take me
if it stops them

made the future real


Stripes And Spots

Zebras on your mind this morning
Zebras in the driveway, trying to get in

Leopards in your dreams last night
Leopards hidden in the backyard junk

Is that a giraffe looming behind the neighbors’ garage roof
or a jaguar on a crane conducting surveillance

You are wondering if you should call a cop
but they’re more like the suspects than they aren’t

Not what they appear to be either
Everything in the jungle wears camo

Zebras now on the back porch knocking
Leopards scratching the front door bell

You put down your phone and start painting your face
But it’s like doing nothing at all in the scheme of things

So you sit and draw the shades and cower like a rabbit
though zebras and giraffes aren’t threats it’s not certain

that the cops will bother to tell the difference
if they come when called at all 

You’re just another critter and your hole isn’t safe
Lions and tigers and bears and jaguars and leopards

and cops and there you are and who is who
It’s not like you can tell who might have changed

their stripes
for spots


Why We Got Here

A faith like
Al Capone’s:
a gun and a smile
will get you farther 
than just a smile.

A vision like
Charlie Manson’s:
love is all you need,
“love” spelled
“K-N-I-F-E.”

A discipline like 
John Gotti’s:
well-dressed, cracking
jokes and heads, bragging
and daring you to try it.

A truth like
George Armstrong Custer’s:
if you charge long enough
and often enough, you’ll become
a famous loser. 

A holy fire like
Cotton Mather’s:
find a scapegoat,
hang it high, pretend
the rope wasn’t braided out of fear.

A repentance like
Jimmy Swaggart’s:
public and eyes up 
to a heaven somewhere above
a cheap suspended ceiling.


Death By Metaphor

Originally posted April 2010.

This morning
it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.

I mean that
in all sincerity. 
Heart, in this case,
is muscle and not metaphor. 
Ribcage is
a common descriptive term for the arrangement
of the ribs. 
Morning is when this is happening;
these words should be seen
as carrying no figurative weight.

I mean to say just what I say:
it’s morning, and it feels like
my heart is knocking against my ribcage.

Note that I did not say, “trying to break free”
from my ribcage.  That would be stupid.
The heart has no will of its own. 
It doesn’t know freedom and it’s not
going to leap from my body
leaving splinters of bone
and a huge hole behind it. 
That would invite metaphor again
and I’m trying to avoid it
as my breathing’s too shallow
to use so much oxygen
on creative thought 
right now.

Did I mention my breathing was shallow?
Don’t assume I meant something else. There’s
nothing hidden there;
my breathing 
is shallow, meaning I’m taking
smaller breaths than usual, higher in my chest,
more quickly. I could add that they do not
expand the ribcage as much as normal breaths.

You should get the picture
though I’m not trying to paint one:
just the facts here. I’m wincing
with the effort of staying in the moment
with the pain in my shoulder. 

Yes, I’m in pain.
For a full description of it,
I’m going to have to dip a bit into
comparison. 
Forgive me.  It’s what 
we all do;
I don’t know how else to say it, so:
it’s like something’s cutting me at intervals.
Sharp pain. We call it that because it explains it
to another. We’ve all felt it.  Right now,

it feels like my left shoulder’s being slashed
from clavicle to pit; a rod’s being shoved in the wound
and shoved down my left arm from the inside.

That’s accurate as a description
even if it’s not a fact. 
No wonder
my breathing’s so shallow. 
No wonder my heart
feels like it’s knocking on my ribcage.

I would feel safe
in having you assume
that these are the signs

of a heart attack, which itself is a metaphor
used to describe a myocardial infarction
or some other cardiac event.  Heart attack
is a bad description: as if the heart
were capable of hostilities. 
It’s not attacking me. 
It’s doing what it is supposed to do
in response 
to my not taking care
of it properly.  Fatty foods, 
no exercise, pack a day habit.
No metaphors there, just facts, though
I suck at self care contains a metaphor
that works, 
even if the sentence
makes no objective sense.

This morning, then,
let’s just say that it feels like my heart
is knocking against my ribcage.
Let’s say, further, that my dumb heart
and my ribcage
and my arm are in some kind of distress
and as a result

I am too 

although I don’t know
what I means, who I am
distinct 
from awareness
of my body. 
If I did,
would I be writing this
instead of calling the ambulance?
If the heart dies I’m sure I’ll find out.
No metaphor in that, either. 

I suspect there will be a moment
when I will understand
the meaning of I 
if keep writing instead of calling.
I won’t come back to tell you about it, though.
You will have to draw conclusions
from the poem and the pain and the heart
and the dying.  You will say

that stupid bastard died
writing a poem while his heart was failing,

and you’ll be correct.

I’m sure someone
will make it into a metaphor,

though in fact it isn’t.


Paid In Full

We lay our hope
these days

upon imminent endings:
the last mortgage check

slid into an envelope
and dropped into the mail;

the last “click”
on the “Pay Now” button

on the car payment
Website; the meteor

from on high
rendering the need for action

on everything at once
obsolete. 

O beautiful,
for fiery sky,

for closure 
on our pain.

Sing it, 
my countryfolk,

my weary troupe
of roleplaying warriors.

Curtain call,
final bows,

leaving the dark theater;
then, off we go to 

our debauched
after party.

Partings
are all we have to 

anticipate now;
do them drunk and

lawless. Do them weepy
and raw. Sit up

alone till dawn to wave at all this
one last time;

wait for the sound
of  “Paid In Full” 

being stamped on our notes;
lie down to rest.


You Liar

When you knew it was over 
you did nothing drastic,
did not weep or moan. 

You tucked
all your loves
into their beds,

went outside
into winter rain,
sat on the step

at the end of the walk
and got soaked through
listening to the highway below.

Late night traffic, still busy,
people heading home,
you tell yourself,

though in fact
you don’t know that.
They could be fleeing,

could be joyful or manic and
destination-free, urged along
by a wild compass within.

You had to make it up
as they went along, because
you weren’t going anywhere.

You had to believe
they must all be going home.
Home felt safe and solid

and someone had to be
as safe and solid, as
clear in their intent

and execution
as you were not.
The cars rolled on

and you sat still
in the rain, soaking 
through, still trying

to pretend all of us 
would be fine,
you liar.