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.

Haunt Song

You have refused to acknowledge
that you are the guitar,
and that the guitar is broken.

The missing pieces somehow
still right there in your body —
the dead end hand, the wilted neck,

the scrambled music within
that clots and clogs
when you attempt to let it flow.

Ghosts, but not ghosts.
Solid flesh that nevertheless has still
vanished. A haunt song playing

loud and obvious, yet no one
believes you when you
tell them what you can hear

or when you say: this is not
me, this broken guitar of
a man you’re seeing.

You’re wrong, of course.
You are as much your damage
as you are not.

You could try playing
what you hear: that haunt song.
See what comes from that

that might be the melody you were
once again or might be
some song nearly brand new, or some

admixture — one ingredient
dominating, then the other;
harmony and melody swapping

primacy. Whatever: you
are the broken guitar trying
to play. Still making music

while you can, whether
haunt song or anthem. There is surely
at least one note left.


Translating

Morning.

I’m terrified
of myself.

Last night
I dreamed again
of lead and steel
speaking truth to power,
speaking directly to its faces
and those visions
won’t leave my head
now that I’m awake.
I thought I’d forgotten

that language. 
It’s so ancient, so 

differently civilized.
It hurts my tongue
a little (although a little
less each
subsequent time I test
it against the edge

of the moment, even when 
I can taste blood after).
I am remembering
how to use it
to call up those
ancestors long gone,
those once

so fluent in it
that while there must have been mornings
when they must have risen
to similar terror,

they still raised their voices
of lead and steel
and spoke
deadly truth to their 
enemies

because to hold it back
was to die.

Morning.
I’m awake.
Afraid but compensating,
getting used to 

forming thoughts
from dreams,

translating.


The Path Without

I have learned to walk
the Path Without.

For years now
my body has scolded, “Student,

do what you are told.”
I’ve resisted for a long time and

my stubborn frame
has backed me up

but no more. Now I walk 
the Path Without.

A path without 
a place to rest. Without

peace, without 
freedom from pain.

My body scolded. 
I whimpered and yes, surrendered,

but not without a struggle.
Now I walk the Path Without.

Without the chops I once had
that made my living sing. Without

the skills I once had
that led me through love and art.

My body tells me this is
a lesson I must learn,

but I feel dumbed down, numbed
and muted, unenlightened

by being made to walk
the Path Without. What,

I ask my body, is it
that I am here to learn

in this stunting class you offer now?
My body says, you are learning

how to be diminished in one place
as you grow in others. Learning

that wholeness is not 
a flawless circle but sometime

is a process of living through
a twinge of pain, a bad footing,

over and over until you begin
walking again as you first did

long ago – a step followed by a fall
following a long slide down an incline

This is the Path Without. Slow down,
my body says. Do what you are told.

 


They Did It

They did it to the sky —
look up at the jail-bars
from their planes and 
factory stacks, cross bars
from bomb craters and 
piles of smoking Brown bodies.

They did it to the earth —
look out upon the jail-bars
of roads and pipelines,
cross bars of damaged towns,
ghost landfills, sick-making farms,
trails of brown Brown blood.

They did it to the sea —
look to the horizon over jail-bars
of diesel spew, acres of death and corpse-fish,
cross bar drift nets
and garbage in patches as thick
as the brown oil sucked from Brown lands.

Don’t ask me
who they are.
You know. 
You nod. You agree.
You consume
and enable. You

look 
into the sky
marveling
at the color
smoke brings out
of the sunset. You

look
across the land
and thrill to 
the ease
with which you can
cross it. You

look
at the ocean
and imagine
yourself a pirate
adrift beyond law
and rules. You

don’t understand 
how they could ruin
a world
that seems like it was made
just to be captured
on a white page.


Civil Society

In order to examine 
all sides of a foul debate
I turned myself inside out

When I was done
I reversed the reversal
but little went back into place

I look the same
except for some weariness
and caution in my eye

but my heart is banging
(perhaps against
some maladjusted rib)

It hurts like a bell
close to cracking
while my gut isn’t easy at all

keeps twisting and poking 
in anticipation of danger
that may be real

or may be a product of
all my contortions to try and be
civil and respectful of despicable men

their crusted ideals
their crooked deity 
their tumbling glory dreams

I bothered to listen
and try to talk
and now I’m withered

and all my innards
are slipping around
trying to keep me

alive long enough
to do something
to make me forget

that I once deluded myself
into thinking that inverting myself
for them

was a courtesy
when in fact it was
a slow suicide

begun in the name of
a civil society
that has never existed


Stone

I was careful with the care
of my gigantic aspirations 
once upon a time, 

based on their size,
irregular borders, and
fragility.

No more.  I’ve made them
smaller and harder. No more
are they built upon

some improbable dream of
fame; not focused upon legacy.
They’ve lost the glassy

shine and brittle
enormity of grandeur.
What I’ve settled on instead

is a longing for invisibility.
To become a stone underfoot
in Evil’s path, kicked aside

after breaking its stride;
better still, to be tossed through
a mansion window

in the Last Battle; best of all,
to be one small piece buried
in the foundation of the Next World.

I aspire to be forgotten
but sturdy. Absent,
indispensable. Insignificant, solid.


Hearing Problem

It has taken me
nearly sixty years
four thousand glasses of whisky
uncounted pounds of herb
pills upon pills
a taste for killer thrills
bodies held close whose souls
I kept at arm’s length

and bent decades of lost hours spent
chasing words into caverns
and trash heaps 

to realize
I might have a hearing problem


I might have misheard my mother 

when she said

don’t have kids they will ruin your life

What she must have really said was

don’t have kids
you will ruin
their lives

but thank God I followed her advice

for surely
surely
surely

either way
she was right


Imagined As Animals

We imagine ourselves
as wolves and owls, hawks 
and lions, sharks and 
deep-eyed jaguars.

They do not think of us that way,
I suspect; never see themselves
in the pale hikers, the secret lovers
naked and earthbound,

the villagers in their encampments,
the accounting manager 
fly fishing in a mountain stream,
dressed to the nines, failing

at every other cast. We never say
I am the worm that endures in darkness,
I am the hard shelled crab that opens 
to vulnerability often yet survives,

I am the trout that escapes death
but hovers nearby after fleeing.
So hard for us to be human. So hard to admit
we are not comfortable beings.


Preliminaries

Shut up, shut up,
shut up, shut up.

Red talk.
Oxygen theft. 
Blood mockery.
Beerhall chants. 

Shut up, we said 
to whoever that was
yelling over there.
Shut up, shut up,
we are trying to breathe.

Shut up, they said
to whoever they thought
was yelling over here. 
Shut up, shut up,
we are trying to sleep.

Shut up, shut up,
our fingers are barking.
Shut up, shut up,
they slap at their screens.

Shut up, they said, shut up, 
shut up,
and we said it right back, 
shut up, shut up, shut up, 
shut up.

Shut up, we said
when they said shut up or
I’ll give you a war 
that you won’t soon forget.

Now it’s been said
and they won’t take it back.
Now it’s put up
or shut up, shut up
and put ’em up. 

When they said what they said
they fired the first shots
and when we said what we said
we were dodging the bullets.

When they said
what they said
it was old and terrible.
We’d seen it before

so we said what we said
because we didn’t believe
they could say it again
without being made 
to shut up, shut up;

civility be damned,

we’ve seen this before
and no one seems to think
it can happen here
but it can and it has
and it is and it will
so shut up, shut up,
shut the hell up,
shut the fuck up

and aim
for the mouth.


Sharks

Near the close-by ocean 
folks are terrified.
It’s brand new,
it’s unheard of:

sharks.

Once in a while
they break surface
in front of oily tourists
and apprehensive natives.

Blood in the water,
the warmer water,
the transformed water.

The fear
is not only about them
killing picturesque seals.
Not any more.

Look at them.
They’re here and that means
we’re all over;

soon the sharks
will learn
how to leap, then fly.

When it happens,
if you look carefully
at the shadow under
a jumping shark
you will see faces
you’ll recognize.

Even if that
particular animal

is not feeding
and has other places
to go, when it lands
upon something you love,
that will be death.

People on the beach
sit in fear of what’s out there
in water that used to be 
ice, their heads tumbling with
movie possibilities, scent
of blood, empty hips
and shoulders, chunks
of identity swallowed
and gone.

Sharks, they know
better. They prepare
to jump, to fly. 

Calling out to all:

water’s poison,
air is fine.

For now.


After The Orgy Of His Ending

he was laid out
like a meal
on a picnic table.
How swiftly he was
torn and butchered!

If you lay a feast
before some folks
they settle right in
and devour it.
I’m certain
he was spoiled,
spoiled early,
spoiled rotten;
I never could have thought
to drag a tooth over him. 
Seeing him
picked clean like this,
I worry most about those 
who consumed him, that they
are what they ate, that they
will turn rotten deep inside
if they were not already. 
It’s not their cannibalism
that shocked me as much
as, knowing how dark
his meat was, how readily
they took him in and made him
a part of their very bones.

They live
right next door
with their bloody jaws

and their endless,
deathless hunger.


A Giant

Long ago,
a giant

somehow
fell out of me.

I don’t have
a face or name
to give you,
but can say
the space inside me
where the giant was 
is specific,
individual, 
and huge.

I can sense
a being in the world,
a being I should have been,
moving 
in a manner as vast

and expansive 
as the planet.

Inside me
where the giant

was born and raised
there is only
a void with an echo
of my own small voice.

I’ve done pretty well
as a shell, I must admit;
have moved the earth
in my own small way,
left footprints,
made some noise,
been a small presence 
nearby and faraway.

That knowledge, though — 

that deep knowledge
that something
dropped out of me
long ago: a void inside
shaped like a larger,
stronger version of me
that I never had
a chance to become;

that knowledge
is a near-fatal wisdom,
a numbing poison
shaped like regret,

a giant named regret.


Write A Continent

Prompted by a misreading of a Facebook field that actually said, “Write a comment.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Start with a mountain range,
or a single peak, or a ridge
on the peak, or a string
of boulders, or a single boulder,
a stone, a pebble, perhaps 
a clump of a few grains of sand.

You could do a novel on 
a few grains of sand.
Multi-volume, intertwined plots,
unresolved conflicts — get these handled
before you move up to the continental
challenges. In your lifetime
you may never get there,

and woe unto you if ever the words
“compose an ocean” swim into
your field of view. That’s how
you die unfulfilled. A recipe for 
drowning. A death sentence
you’ll never be able to appeal.


A Beautiful World

A beautiful world exists;
I believe that. 

I understand that
without feeling it
at all. No connection to it 

beyond that which one 
might briefly find 
for a well done replica
of something beyond
personal taste —

doll house, tractor,
Angora rabbit —

commenting
for the sake of form
about being impressed
by the work involved,
then moving on.

Beauty, truth —
there are those
who have claimed
they are the same;
I cannot agree.

I’ve seen and felt 
so much ugly truth

I have become numb
to that which might be
beautiful and true
at once,

which does not render
the beautiful less true
but it makes me
an unreliable narrator
of my own passage
through this world:

me on a tractor,
chasing a rabbit, 
heading home
to a perfect house;

me weeping 
when I cannot feel
the sunset
painting me gold

when I arrive.


Adjacent

I’ve got a friend 
who weeps when called out
for racist words and actions.

Who sobs out loud
when tapped on the shoulder
with a simple, “excuse me, but…”

Who appeals to the masses
for absolution from
wee slips of the tongue and 
itty-bitty sins of omission or,
sometimes,
commission. 

I feel so bad for them
I’ve created
an easier term to use.

I say,
“You’re not being racist…
friend…
it’s more like…
you are…

racism-adjacent.” 

As in, of course
you’re not,
but you share a fence
with it.

As in, of course
you’re not,
but your apartments 
share common spaces
where racism
plays Kid Rock so loud
you can’t hear
that nice Justin Timberlake.

As in, of course 
you’re not, 
but you work
a community garden together;
racism grows weed, you grow
cannabis.

As in, of course,
racism doesn’t know any better.

As in, of course,
you certainly know better.

You’re not racist,
just racism-adjacent.
Sit near it at work.
Talk to it at lunch.
Engage it in debate
online, listen to it
respectfully, indignantly
at PTA meetings,
tut-tut it in private,
slip into silence
when it’s next to you
in the elevator, 
the supermarket,
the voting booths.

Of course, you
are not like that.
Of course you would never

although you sympathize
with how hard
it must be sometimes to miss
falling into that
what with all the 
provocations
and you know better
but the economy pushes
people and 
you would never sacrifice
anyone’s right to speak —

Enough. Friend, listen:
I’m so sorry I called you
racist. It must have been
the lighting, the darkness,
the nearness of
the real racist
in the room — sorry, 

I meant to say
“racist-adjacent”
of course but somehow
I forgot. Sin of 
omission on my part —

I forgot the word
I’m supposed to use.