Author Archives: Tony Brown

About Tony Brown

A poet with a history in slam, lots of publications; my personal poetry and a little bit of daily life and opinions. Read the page called "About..." for the details.

Let It Rock

From the stage all he clearly sees 
is the faces in the first few rows;

beyond that visual fuzz, sightline distortion
as thick as what’s pealing from the amps.

He knows, as well as he knows himself,
that there are kids in that crowd miming air guitar

to every riff he releases, and as he always does
he asks himself: what do I do here?

Do I play what I played on the original,
the same tired run that used to make me glow

the first thousand times I played it? Do I play that
because a thousand or more kids here tonight

have stood before a thousand or more mirrors practicing,
practicing to play it exactly right? Or instead

do I play it the way I can play it now, gifting them all
a liquid swarm of stingers unlike anything they’ve heard

from me before? Do I risk or relax; do I do what’s expected,
or do I stretch it out before them all

and wait for astonishment,
for indifference, for the whispers that might follow?

He hangs for a bar or two between fear and art
then plunges his hand down across the strings,

imagining a sea of mirrors before him,
unseen in the raging darkness.


My ancestors gave me
a belly stuffed with sand:

some from desert north
of the Rio Grande,
some from stony hills
in Calabria. 

All my contortions
to shift this heaviness
led to this sand
abrading me
until it wore me thin, and now
the hole has widened,

sand has leaked free;
all that is left is

the hole.

I have filled it
with all manner of things

from whiskey to 
fire, from bullets
to monstrous tears.
Nothing has worked;
all I take in leaks away.

I’m so hungry now
but all I consume
tastes like sand — 
and not like my sand;
stranger sand. Sand
full of ash and broken glass.

You stare at me and say:

why don’t you get that hole fixed
if it’s killing you?

You don’t see
how large it is.
You don’t see that it is 
all of me. I am a ghost
from my ancestors’ lands,
made entirely of
emptiness and stray grains
of forgotten soil.
You don’t see 
that death, at this point, 
will be simply a gust
blowing me away. 

Note on my page links

I recently updated the list of links on my page, something I hadn’t done in years. A lot of them were broken or vanished.  Added “Bourbon, Cigarettes, and Syllables”, for instance; someone who’s a recent commenter and fellow poet.

Gotta help each other out.

I’ll be looking over more blogs and adding them over the next little while.  Lemme know if you want in and I’ll check you out; or let me know if you don’t want in and I’ll leave you out. Whichever.



Seeking my place
in this new body, 
opening doors to some rooms
I’ve seen before
and some that are new to me,

a few that were locked away
from me by design or mistake, 

and some that I thought I knew well
that have been altered in some way;
small unclear changes that somehow
have broken my unearned sense
of security, my trust in my able grasp.

Here’s a cracked cup lying
where it has fallen from my numb hand.

There, my guitar with its bloody neck
that I long to play but fear to pick up.

fraught with the small dangers
of life — 

I might have a moment later
where I am comfortable here
but right now, all I can do

is keep trying the locks,
turning the handles,

Imposter Syndrome

Whose words these are, I think I know.
They are not mine. They fall out of me
from whatever broken cabinet they’ve hidden in
until now. No idea when I put them there,
where I took them from, what book, what
conversation; whatever gloomy room
they came from, now they’re here in this one,
on page, on stage, settling into another’s
eye or ear, and all can see how deep
my criminality runs. I’ve never had
an original thought in my time. Everything
is evidence now of how little I worked
at anything other than hoarding words
long enough to spit them back out 
into air that would see them as mine, as fresh. 

Sitting here shivering with my plagiarism,
I stare into it as if my thought alone
could shift a solstice and bring a new season,
a warmer time, something truly mine
to offer; enough of these cold stolen goods.
I seek a new thing, but all I have is memory
and lament. Joy in creation is so far from my grasp
that I may fall off into an abyss simply by reaching
for it; yet, I must try for myself if no one else,
and if I fail, I fail. Any husk of mine left behind
will look so much like that of every other failure
that no one will even notice me drifting off
on whatever blizzard wind has been ordained
to sweep such things away. 


your dark-blessed mouth
moving without sound

your hands involving themselves
in matters beyond their grasp


your room glowing blue by burning
all your hardened regret

your screen full of targets
your attack rationale on dagger point


owning your enemy
you’re a pain collector

owning your arguments
tangled web connector

you are top of the pops
you are king and that throne you’re on

is lit

your hair’s a rude mess
framing your face

no one thinks of you ever
till you start to bark


if you had a dollar for
every sneer you’ve delivered

you still wouldn’t be rich enough
to want to let this go

in love with your damnation
toast of the distasteful 


Unopened Books

How many own books
on which they’ve never cracked a spine,
holding on to whatever’s inside
as if these were precious eggs
made to keep their secrets.

One day they become bored
with the look of shiny unread words
on their shelves and they purge.
All those books go to the donation bin.
Someone else will take them in:

me, probably. They all come to my house
in stacks and stay in stacks near the bed,
on shelves, under the nightstand.
One day I’ll break those books open
and let their music and their words free

to slip out and slide around inside me
or hover in the air of the kitchen
while the chicken browns in the frying pan
and I stare at the refrigerator shelves
looking for something to go with it,

something not there. There is often
nothing there, or nothing fresh, nothing
appealing. This is where we are now,
I tell myself. I think of all I’ve let down.
I imagine loved ones, who if they could see me,

would frown. At least I have the words
to describe this, I tell myself. At least
I’ve had the books and the space for the books
and their words and music, learned enough from them
for this poverty dance to be seen and heard

and understood. Wasn’t that enough?
Comfort and joy aren’t meant for some of us.
Maybe I was born to be the writer
of an unopened book, one no one will read
except another like me. Hello, if you’re out there;

get out if you can.

The Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

Of the 1500 people
this man calls friends
he has met approximately 800 in person.

Of those 800, he’s had
more than passing conversations
with maybe 200.

Of those 200,
he’s had longer 
with perhaps 40.

Of those 40, there are perhaps 15
who are “friends” in the sense of the word
that existed prior to the year 2006.

1500 friends: 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell his story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud

with all the others, because
he no longer sees “friendship”
as a solid object:

no rock upon which
to build, no seawall against which
the ocean can pound; he is alone

as he stares at screens
where all anyone can see
is a storm on the way.

One day, the man decides to read
a three volume unfinished novel
titled “A Man Without Qualities.”

He opens the first volume,
closes it,
opens it again.

He struggles to understand
how there could be
a story three volumes long

of a man who is nothing
beyond what he is asked to be
by others.

The book, over 1500 pages long,
sits on his bedside table
unopened for long spells

as he talks to 1500 friends online
where, if there is

a Quality to “friendship,”
it has been absorbed
into a cloud.

It is being absorbed.
It shall be absorbed.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would nod and agree
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

To hold on
to those 15 friends
he will have to learn a new word

with which
to draw them forth
from the coming hurricane.

Reference: The Man Without Qualities

The Look Of An Eagle

Some people love
the look of an eagle
so much they forget

the terrible things
an eagle
could do to them

with that
noble head
and those tenacious feet. 

The eagle
will be mostly unconcerned
with those people

until they 
a threat,

and then, then
we will see
what happens:

the gripping and biting,
the tearing.
The panic. The blind support

for more of the same
as long as it’s not done
to them.


Your head
wants to know what to do next,
and you can’t tell it

You can’t even tell it
who is listening to its questions,
if it is not the head itself. Maybe
it’s one of those old distinctions
at work — heart, head, hands.

Perhaps your hands are talking to your head,
or perhaps the heart has its own voice
and that is what is bugging the head for action.

The bigger question: where are you, exactly,
in the mix? Do we need to pull
the soul into the inquiry? Or perhaps this is
a case of ego, id, superego at play;
anima or animus goading the persona 
to action while the shadow sits aside chuckling.

All this speculation gets you is panic,
is a spur of the moment step out the door
in a T-shirt and pajama pants
in mid-January. You have no idea 
who’s doing what inside your shell;
maybe, just maybe, you’re just plain nuts;

but look: a coyote
trotting down the sidewalk
on the other side of the street,
much to your mild surprise.

It does not look back at you as it passes. 
As if it should. As if in any space
where Coyote runs
you, you hero, 
you man of the hour,

could mean a thing —

you go back inside
shivering and 
brimful of silence.

Brutal Word

A brutal word
has come to me.
It seems to hold some truth;
I don’t know for certain.
I didn’t invite it,
yet it seems to be
inside me,
digging itself
a home.

I am trying
not to think of it
or say it out loud. 
To do either

would be to allow it
to claim a place in my life;
even more dire,
if it required
a definition from me
I’d be forced to
give it more meaning
than is proper
for a man like me —

who would I be
if I understood
such a word, 
its use, its context-
making energy?

When the word
begins to chafe
against my resistance
and demand that I voice it,
I have to hold my tongue
in ice tongs I keep
for this purpose — cold
teeth biting into
stubborn muscle.

I sit in a standoff
with this rude particle
of language, hand clenched
around a torture tool, refusing
to yield to the word’s claim
upon me — its demand
for time and space
in my mouth and beyond.

If I cannot win
and the word triumphs,
burning itself  
into the hard poem it seems
to be made for,

I may be a better, 
humbler person.
I may in fact
have told the truth —

but that is
not at all
what I came here for,

and not at all 

what I came to say. 

I Just Work Here

I just work here
with my feet on the ground
head on the ground
eyes just clear enough of the ground
to weep at seeing the sky
when I wake up for work
I just work here
cleaning up after the sparkle dogs
of the glitter folks
I just work here
on behalf of someone’s imagination
about the nobility of following my bliss
right into a pit brimming with broken backs
I just work here
not that far from the sky
and a sparkle dog of my own
(at least that’s what’s printed on my pay stubs)
I just work here 
work I said
but they say voting is my job too
I need to vote sometimes so I vote
(about work)
and they say I need to kill sometimes
in the work (for the work)
so I kill occasionally
I just work here
and I cheer the killers if I’m not kiling
I just work here
high on shrugs and winks and nods
I just work here
with my feet on the neck of another
and the blood of the past in my drinks
that taste like hell
(it’s work to choke it down
and I work here)
I just work here
in the forges of the gods
in the factories of the demigods
in the cube farms of the priests
in the bank vaults of the faithful
in the gardens of the dog catchers
in the still-faintly-blue seas of the mariner warriors
in the starved ranks of the indigent
in the desiccated homes of the criers and screamers
I just work here and vote here and kill here
and vote for the killers to do it in my name
and work is work and the sparkle dogs
lick my hand now and then
for love or for taste-test
I don’t know
I don’t ask
I just work here
where they barely
tell me anything
I don’t already expect to be a lie

Every Everything

Every everything
An onion full of stench
Sometimes appetizing
No telling when or how

Every everything
A packet no one’s read
A black hole paperwork
An answer in there somewhere

Dream or how it just is
Fantasy or operating system
Direction or illusory urge
Did the land itself just heave

Every everything
A doctor with a Doberman face
A mistake on its knees for your pleasure
Doors that open on walls that move aside

Welcome to the newest of new
Every everything’s changed
Will you carry a daisy or a dagger
We will need both 


Listening to
my old guitar
in better hands
than mine
causes no jealousy, 
only wonder;

it seems that every song 
ever played upon it
has been hiding in there
and all of them 
are now ringing
around this room

as if every yesterday
has found its voice again
in those hands and 
those strings.

If I let envy
stop my ears tonight, I fear
I may not be worthy
of seeking those songs
for myself tomorrow.

Mystery Upon Mystery

upon mystery,

how we force
some creatures
into becoming
our dearest symbols;

then when the symbols 
become extinct,
our mythology
grow stronger, as if
the death of eagles
is irrelevant to the death
of all that we have made
the eagles stand for,

as if we never cared
for eagles in the first place
beyond what we
could make of them.