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.

Conflagration

In my daily news, in my inbox,
a headline: “Smoky Haze? Blame 
the West Coast Wildfires,” so I do.
I stop coughing at once and can see
so much better than before I read it.

The small screen in my pocket
is a blame machine. It points at things
and shakes its finger and I go where it points;
down South where I can sneer at the rubes,
or to the Capitol to wave a treason flag.

The darkness out there is real.
Who am I to dispute darkness?
I’m an average bewildered American,
picking and choosing targets
in the land where blame is the lubricant 

that keeps things moving. In the darkness
it’s easy to slip. We need light to see a path;
whether it’s right or wrong hardly matters
as long as we know where to go and who to blame
for a rough road. Any light will do:

screen light; flashlight; torch light; conflagration.


Effloresence

complications in the country 
my blood and the nerves of the hand
have led me

to distrust my senses
and be flush with anger
perpetually

others think I should
let this flow into
my art and thus be cured

jackass thoughts
if my poems were ever therapeutic
I’d have never gotten to this point

think of them instead
as efflorescence on the hide
of a flimsy house of rotten brick

that I have shaken off
and let fall outside the house
you think it’s beautiful there on the ground

but the house is still
rotten and I am still
sick in this country

where I am trying to nurse
my syrupy blood and my dead nerves
to something like an ending all can stomach

I gave up on storybook happy
a long time ago and nothing I write
could change that

An Old Poet Counts To One Hundred Percent

You miss one hundred percent
of the shots you don’t take,
read the poster
on my former manager’s wall.

It should have read, “You miss
one hundred percent of the shots
I forbid you to take,
and one hundred percent of the shots
you take without asking me first.
Then again, it’s better to ask for forgiveness
than permission — but do both
at once one hundred percent of the time.”

Fifty percent of the reason
I quit that damn job was
that damn poster, and the other
fifty percent was how sick I was 
of the damn cafeteria. How I could never
eat my lunch in peace. How no lunch
was ever one hundred percent 
free of work, network, busy work…

no matter. I do not miss
one hundred percent
of what I stepped away from. I take
one hundred percent of the shots now.
I miss a less than exact percentage.

Let’s not, in fact, admit to there being
percentages at all for missing and taking now.
I take a tree, I miss a stone.
I miss falling, I take flight.

I took my shot. I took 
my missing it as an immeasurable ocean
upon which to set sail.


Two Birds

Two birds, Avoidance and Dismissal,
have come to roost in the rafters of the palace. 

The beat of their wings deafens the pragmatists
who snap their heads back and forth between them.

They choose which bird offers more to them right now,
no longer hearing anything beyond these walls.

The birds sit, stir, and raise and lower their feathers
in time, waiting to feed.


The Pattern Song/America’s Shoes

Everything has a political component 
If you learn to see 
you’ll surely agree

Everything has a political component
If you think it though
You’ll see it’s true

Walking in America
wearing its mandatory shoes
hurts.

They don’t fit
but because they are superficially pretty
and match the rest of your outfit

people try to tell you
your feet are the problem. Don’t worry.
It’s fixable, they say. 

Having tried on and taken home 
dozens of the annual versions
of America’s shoes, you disagree

but go on walking
in shoes full of blood,
shoes lined with gun metal.

Everything has a political component
It’s a fact of life
we tuck out of sight

Everything has a political component
We don’t like to say
how it got this way

Trying to find others
whose walk hurts
in the same way yours does

is always hard
and even tragic
on some days.

Finding a place
where others have stopped
to kick them off,

to stand together,
stand barefoot and bruised
but more at ease,

even briefly
for a quick respite, 
is its own kind of ache.

Everything has a political component
The slant hits you 
as you think it through

Everything has a political component
Every gear that turns
Every tree that burns

The problem, you say,
is the shoes, not the feet,
but even some

of your fellow striders
who’ve stopped beside you
on the street

to pull the cursed shoes off and rest
insist the next version will fit at last.
They’re finally getting it right. Look at

how much progress we’ve made, how
far we’ve come. The walk ahead may be
daunting, but we’ve certainly left

all the bloody footprints
we need
to show the way.

Everything has a political component
Don’t say that too loud
You’ll attract a crowd

Everything has a political component
It’s not always clear
But it’s always there

If you refuse to tie the shoes back on,
they’ll be the first 
to stomp your bare feet

until you are dead or
so crushed you might
as well be.

Stop trying, drag yourself
to the nearest funeral home
(because you can’t even limp there)

where they’ll box you up, hide your feet,
burn or bury you and call you a martyr
long before you are in fact dead,

when all you ever wanted was to get home
without screaming inside
at every step.

Everything has a political component 
If you learn to see 
you’ll surely agree

Everything has a political component
If you think it through
You’ll see it’s true


The Pattern Song (first draft)

The sung sections of a new Duende Project piece, still in progress. Stay tuned

Everything has a political component 
If you learn to see 
you’ll surely agree

Everything has a political component
The slant hits you 
as you think it through

Everything has a political component
Every gear that turns
Every tree that burns

Everything has a political component
Folks can help you see
but their time ain’t free


An Old Poet Contemplates The Family Business

1.
Your family gladly tucks you into
the bed you grew up in
when you are sick, sick as
possible, even if you are
impossibly sick —
better still, in fact, if it is
an illness that is best left
undescribed in the refined company
they claim to have kept;
a disease of inches and spew
that will keep others guessing
long after you pass. But
do not dare to be healthy
if you desire their love. Do not
imagine that their embrace,
even in your worst moments,
is love at all.

2.
When you die do not allow
a physicist to speak at your funeral
of the undead nature
of your being. They know all that;
they are counting on it. Instead
I recommend an engineer, a
locomotive driver; someone who can speak
of how long it takes a train to stop
from full speed, how much force
its impact delivers; someone
to point out that the track you were on
only ever went one way and
looking back over the narrow rails
of where you were during your life
tells you little about the landscape around them,
the views that broke your heart,
the places you longed to visit
without them in tow.

3.
Understand that even after hearing that,
the family will never sell
your sickbed. Instead they’ll make
a museum of your room, keep it
unclean and sigh when they sell tickets
to anyone who comes by. 


An Old Poet Shrugs It Off

Ask the complications in your journey for their reasons,
or slip aside to an easier path; it will not matter.
It has come to pass that you do not have enough time left
to understand how the world truly works.

You will instead assign blame or glory to God,
humble yourself before natural law,
skin yourself naked
to defend the science of your success and failure; 

no matter. You are wrong
in some ways, right in others, and you will never
be able to bet on learning the answer and have it pay out.
You are going to have to let the questions

ride their own wild horses over the flat plains of your future,
your mountainous past looming over them, your canyoned regrets
all around them, your mystery oceans somewhere beyond all.
It will not matter in the time you have left

whether or not you ever solve for the final, perfect explanation
of your passage. You are going to stand alone at the end
with your only choices a resigned shrug of acceptance
or a bitter shrug of defiance. It will not matter which you choose.


Through The Hot Ash Of The World

I find myself
walking unwillingly
(as always,
as I was born to do,
as I have since day one) 
with the common version
of the devil
through the hot ash 
of his world, sucking in
the fragrance
of his sudden irrelevance
as the structure he supported
for so long is 
ironically brought down
by people’s actions 
in support of him.

I find myself
ecstatically afloat within
on the knowledge that 
in the long run
this demon only holds
illusion

and all over the globe
less crudely rendered visions 
of him and his Adversary
are getting up after
their long nap,
cracking their knuckles,
and turning to each other
in symbiotic fashion and friendship
to resume their lives
with a hearty,

“Now then…where were we?”

The common version of the devil
looks at all the ruin
of what was done 
in his name
and mutters, “I’m 
fucked now, aren’t I?”
I respond,

“Buck up,
bud. I hear your partner’s
coming up from 
the Harrowing shortly.
Maybe the two of you
can go grab a seat on
a mountain top somewhere
and talk yourself into 
something like
retirement. You’ve
certainly earned it.”


An Old Poet Thinks About…Cats

On one of the rare occasions
twenty years ago or so
when I came pretty close to 
Pulling It Off,

I lay upon
the bathroom floor surrounded by
concerned cats and pulled myself 
together even as I regretted my weakness,

telling myself I was doing It 
for others, staying here
for the fear of leaving
others to live in the wake of It

and how It would ruin their lives to lose me
that way and have all they knew of me
erased by the vision of me ending up
cold, bled out upon the ancestral tiles,

ringed by the only beings
who stayed with me
through the dimming
and the light going out at last.  

Twenty years or so later
I question that choice, uncertain
that living on past that day didn’t ruin
more lives than Pulling It Off would have,

thinking of the saddened people who’ve met me since then
and the ones who were there who’ve endured so much more,
and while I’m better now to some degree
and wouldn’t do more than think now and then

about trying once again to Pull It Off
and still on occasion
regretting my weakness at the time,
I am glad there are cats around me here, just in case.


An Old Poet Skips Yet Another Open Reading

It’s a joy to watch myself
disappearing at last
from spaces I once felt
I needed to dominate.
Truly, I wanted to vanish
every time I showed up
but the best I could do
was be central,
larger than life,
and false,
so everyone looked at
my illusion
and not at me.

Now I am
old enough and voluntarily
diminished,
so far beneath these people
who never look down
that I can be both
invisible and more real
than I ever have been before
as I burrow away
from expectations and
reputation into the places
where I can do the most
good, or damage,
or good damage, praying
(in an uncharitably fulfilling way)
that they may they never know
what hit them, what tunneled
below them, what changed
the ground that no longer
holds any of us well.


Burndowns

In July the ocean 
burned down. The Gulf of Mexico
on fire. The oil running up to the surface
and igniting. Fireboats flooding flames
fed by hellmouth far below. Water kills fire
on water that should not burn
and we breathe a sigh of relief.
That’s who we are now.

In June churches began
to burn down. Think of all
who might have taken 
torches to the churches.
Think of terrified officials
setting matches to their guilt,
or think of the children
who did not live to see this.
Imagine it in your own way
as clean revenge, filthy cover up,
or tragedy with no concern for context:
no matter. Churches burn
and some sleep better in the firelight.
That’s who we are now.

Elsewhere precincts
and drugstores and 
people burndown as if
the air itself were on fire;
in fact, the atmosphere
is burning down. Woods and homes
flash up and vanish. Lakes and rivers
drying into sinks and gullies.
Air thick with humidity and hubris
and get along to go along, fingers
plunged into ears against the screaming
of the losing earth. Burndown generations,
learning to live and die in the light of fireworks 
blowing up for the last time.
That’s who we are now.


Kintsugi

Open a window to see
how things have changed from yesterday,
or even as far back as the day before,
the last time the windows were open.

Look into whatever is out there:
a cloud obscuring a dimmed sun, a front yard
damp with failed promise. Having expected
so much from you, it looks back in disappointment.

The weeds keep returning and although
that is to be expected, every year it’s
a source of your submergence into regret.
Your landlord says he should have paved it all.

There are days you agree with the old grouch
until the moment the sun comes out of its obscurity
and you remember the pink and green-slate leaves
of the hen and chicks growing in the broken front wall.

You did not plant them or plan for them
but they keep fighting through to the light.
The weeds you deplore are doing the same.
Hope, in its many shades of green, always shows up.

So you sigh and dress for changing weather
and prepare to weed — taking the unwanted
away, clearing for the desirable. You think about
repairing the front wall. You decide to let that go:

what has filled in the cracks
is too settled to lose,
and too perfect inside the damage
where it grows.


This Train

If anything at all
could divert the train I’m on
to some destination not promised
on its itinerary, I’d gladly
make it happen.

Ride the line long enough
and you realize
it’s just a long commute
to an unappetizing job site
that’s been marketed as paradise.

They said we were bound for glory.
I see glory off on the horizon
and I don’t think the tracks
will pass through there, not if
we keep going as we have.

I could have been a gambler,
a midnight rambler — anything
but good and holy. So: next
slow curve, I’m jumping off.
Likely end up broken and dead.

No matter. I’ll be still.
If they never find me I will
be right here forever, off
to the side of the cursed track.
Could have been so much worse.


Cipher

In all the time I’ve spent
everywhere but here,
I only ever wanted to be
anywhere but there.

Here is also there.
Here is more there
than I care to admit. How
to be present anywhere

is my Great Unknown.
On the shore I long for desert.
In the desert I thirst
for sea and shore.

In a monk’s cell I would dream
of dissolute throngs; in a mob
I would no doubt separate
and seek a nook in which to cower.

Family, did you ever imagine
I would ever settle well, nearby,
ready to drop in for a visit and stay a while?
Friend, beloved, did you ever fully believe

I was as much a nomad as you are?
Inside, the best face I can muster
is a sour one. All outside will see
sweetness, a lifelong facade.

I only know how to be absence
in your presence, and I am sorry,
but these times being what they are
it is a living of sorts. Onward.