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.

Not Over

This isn’t over
although it appears to be
almost beyond repair.

It is not over
although the bears
are falling into pits
and not rising up.
Not over although
an eagle dropping from the sky
misses the intended target and 
seizes a scrap of human
instead. Not over although
smoke is filling eyes
and lungs and discourse.

It’s not over
because this morning 
someone stepped out
groggy from heat and 
lack of sleep and 
filled the feeders before
making coffee,

and then waited to see
who would arrive first,

and recognized 
the usual downy woodpecker
and said good morning to her
as he turned from her perched
on the log full of suet plugs
hanging not three feet away,

the nonchalance of the bird
in his presence suggesting
for once, the possibility of
a future, offering a chance
at small, tentative relief
that maybe it’s not over,
not yet.


Ism Schism Game

Originally posted 2015.
With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece.

Dictionaries
tell you with authority
how words are used

to do work
on behalf
of Authority

If they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of a prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition 
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase 
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of 
their order

The dictionaries
have no words
to sing of those who

having come up from under boulders
having come free of rejections and crush
having come from understanding

to see this ism schism game
for the death match it is
and then sing new words to win it

Words of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and they do so
by any definition
necessary


Troll

Hoots and jeers,
big noise from a cheap seat.

His name is Ken or Chad
or something just as obvious.

He likes the old ways,
his team’s stank mascot,

his Blue Lives Matter 
refrigerator magnet,

his right to bear
grudges. There’s 

a blanket-size flag
mounted in the bed of his Dodge

for him to suck on, thumb
in his mouth any time

he isn’t yapping about
patriotism or his other

idols. Always quick
with an LOL or J/K.

Maybe he’s a rich man or maybe he’s
a poor man but either way he’s certainly

as pale as his liquor
and just as light and stingy.

Lets you know he’s been through
his own tough times and 

whining doesn’t cut it with him
though talk of bootstraps

and increasing gunfire
sound like a whine from here.

How does he miss
the glitter of rich eyes behind him

and the manipulating hand 
up his ass?

Does he even know
he’s fodder for what’s coming?

When the puppeteer
pulls away, he still won’t

understand. Will stand by,
staring at the Flood,

uncertain if it’s fake
but sure that if it isn’t

there will be a place saved for him
on the last island.


A Door That Leads To A Fight

Before us, a door
that leads to a fight.

We’ve been afraid
to open it for too long.

Hand on the knob, 
hesitating, stepping back

to wipe our hands so dry
no sweat remains, no blood,

no tears. We deny
what we’ve lost by not 

opening that door
to engage what’s there.

We can hear it. We can smell
smoke and iron flavor. 

Ghosts of past massacres
slip underneath to shake us.

Hints of firelight
and snickering flame

offer us a sense  
of the horrid delight

the enemy is feeling.
It’s a thick door but

not thick enough
to hold that all back — 

and yet, and yet there’s
our own hand on the knob

and the start of the turn
and the growing readiness

to become 
smoke eaters and 

water for the blaze
even if we fail;

though we shake and cower
and hesitate,

to fail from cowardice
means so little now

when what’s behind the door
is coming through

no matter who
opens it first.


What’s Missing

Was it in the last place you looked,
that tall shelf

of obscure mementoes
laden with dust; or was it

in a flag’s ripple, obvious
but ephemeral; 

does it live in the wind
or in the fabric? It’s not there,

though. What is it, even? It feels like
what’s missing can’t be defined.

It should be a simple act 
to first identify what is missing,

explain where to find it,
then go and get it.

But something’s missing.
The news has been emptied;

each day seems paler,
no longer suffused with it.

It’s not joy. While that’s grown scant,
it still appears from moment to moment.

It’s not contentment;
some have plenty of that. They

hide behind it, show it off,
their coat of complacent arms.

If it has a name it might be
hope, or even the promise of hope,

but to call it that and declare it absent
is so cold; seems 

counterintuitive in such heat.
To say that hope’s gone missing

seems so nearsighted; can’t see it
right in front of you and the horizon

has grown shady
with smoke from guns and pyres.

Maybe it’s buried under rubble,
in pipeline trenches or mass graves,

and that’s why it seems elusive.
Maybe planting a telescope

in a sacred place
and using it to seek hope

while trampling
the site of a desecration

keeps us more ignorant
than wise, and that’s why hope

stands apart from us, hiding its face,
shaking its head. 

But what if what’s missing 
isn’t hope at all? Perhaps

what is disturbing the flag
is another thing

entirely. Perhaps what we can’t find
on the shelf where we keep our treasures

is integrity or righteous anger or
the will to move against

the evils of this time. We lend
no color to the world. We offer

no tangible proof of being 
a vital part to all of this.

We are in the last place
now. We are sitting on a high shelf

that’s ready to collapse
and the flag can’t save us.

We thought it could,
thought we could take it

for a blanket
and not a shroud,

though it has always 
been both.

Maybe that illusion
is what’s missing. 


Traitors

Revised version of “My Body The Traitor”

Ahead of me I see my body,
moving faster and faster.
I’m one clumsy step behind,
maybe two or three steps;

we’re slowing as we move tandem
toward an inevitable destination.
It makes no sense
to see myself as not being 

my body, people say.
I say they don’t know.
They can’t see how far I am
from being in there, how

my whole intention is stymied
by the distance between
what the Self wants and needs to do
and what the Body will allow.

This betrayal tears at me,
rips me, pushes me sobbing
into my pillow. I don’t want to go
where the Body is going,

don’t want to put
head and heart
into that mess. Don’t want
to die on the Body’s terms.

I find myself longing to betray the Body.
Let the Self decide the route
and the speed limit.
Drag the Body kicking to the end

to fall apart when the Self is done.
Not before, not one day
or second before. Let the Self rejoin
the Body, then leave the Body behind;

betrayed, but at peace or at least
no longer in pain, no longer
in failing, no longer in free fall
to the hard face of the road.


My Body The Traitor

Up ahead of me
my body the traitor
is moving faster
and faster while I’m

a clumsy step
behind, maybe two
or three steps
more days than not;

slower and slower
toward an inevitable
destination. Some days
my body’s every step hooks

on a stone in the road, puts
a big toe in a crack, breaking
its back; I’m closing the distance
though in fact I don’t want to go

where my body is going, 
don’t want to slow and settle
head and heart into that 
jalopy for that junkyard lap.

If I could I’d pull the body back
to where I am and say, rest.
Take it out of gear
and rest.  Let’s step aside

from the chase; let’s park and idle
before the end of the road
and talk about what we’ve seen
and loved and feared and passed

and forgotten; then,
betrayal forgiven, 
once we’ve gotten enough
out of that talk, then

let me strap in
and we can go
together, coasting
to a full stop.


My Lesser Self

In a small retreat
from all my clutter
I chose to leave
my best self at home
and take my lesser self
to a rock I climbed often
as a child.

While my best self
took care of business and
swept my dusty floors
the weaker self and I sat
on cold granite and did not care
how dirty we became
as we scuffed our knees 
climbing down

to step in stinking black mud,
stumbling along the banks
of the river once full of 
live dyes from the mills
that still holds toxins enough
that no one would dare drink 
or eat from there, 
though there were
fishers who must have hoped
for catch and release;

in the distance I could see
my childhood home, 
a place I would not take
my lesser self to see:
no need, that’s where
we both were born

and then it was time
to go home, put my lesser self
to bed and let it sleep
without dreams of all this
while my better self and I
sat together and pretended
none of that day had happened.


Toward Oakham

North of Worcester
driving toward storms
through mad copper dusklight

in state park woods 
sheltering beauty, demons,
Revolutionary legends, witch shadows:

those old settler myths
die hard. Upon reaching 
a curtain of rain,

that light softens,
tinges toward silver; then
comes a voice chasing

a spark in the clouds.
Anything under the trees
that wants to cause harm

will have to wait its turn.
Then again perhaps nothing
is malicious out here

and all the danger’s
in the head of
a beholder

who just wants
to get home
after a long day

and leave
all this history and
his personal ghosts behind

to dissipate
in the last silver light
under the colonized trees.


Suppose

Suppose you looked hard at your life, your existence, your being, the fact of your physical presence on the planet; looked at it and saw that you, the watered-down remnant of the combination of Native and Italian ancestry, were the site and the desired product of the Genocide.

Suppose you were raised with the words “never forget you’re not White” hammered into you and yet you ended up looking in the mirror at that which was undeniably White-passing and privileged and saw, to your eyes and upbringing, the image of a great Evil.

Suppose you could never shake the constant whisper of “you shouldn’t exist” in your ear.

Suppose that as you aged and decayed and body parts began to betray you and your abilities, you found it increasingly wearying simply to get up and go, yet more and more you understood how important it was to get up and go.

Suppose you lived in the incipient days of a Fascist takeover spearheaded by a man whose hatred of people like you was becoming more and more palpable at the moment you were least equipped to confront it.

Suppose people kept assuming you were ready and able for the War you knew was coming and did not see you as anything more than their expectations of you.

Suppose this all came together for you on a hot summer morning in a pool of sweat in a soaked bed sheet on a couch in the kitchen staring out the front window at an empty bird feeder two empty feeders and birds staring back at you.

Would you go outside and water the garden?


The Physical

There were adaptations you needed
and ones you wanted

and others you never dreamed
you’d have to make

Out of your body you come
into a new space

to look back at
the form you’ve always known

You startle yourself 
How much you’ve changed

How is it possible
that you feel so new and brave
in spite of the growing volume
of the pestering voice insisting  
that all your changes
have not stopped time

You look at the proof of their insistence
on display 
in your body there below you
All that work and all your changes 
and there you are anyway

You choose the present

May as well settle back into
the physical and see
where this may go


Vine Borer

Was any of the work
or expense worth it
for this:

plants destroyed
before the full harvest
by something foreseeable
and preventable?

Staring down
at what was salvaged
in the moment
and knowing it is also
likely doomed as this
has happened before,

all my Work appears to me
like this pile of mush
and cankers, yet I keep 
planting again and again.

It’s a reflex now:

every morning, a reflex;
each seed, a reflex;
any tearing down, a reflex;
recriminations, a reflex;
rationalizations, a reflex;

detached leg still twitching;
one bloom holding on 

as dead tissues 
fall slack.


I Burn Twice

It is lazy to call this fatigue
or exhaustion. It is evil
to call this resignation or
surrender. I don’t have the right
to surrender or resign. 
By being ill and tired
I am doing evil. Smaller evil, maybe,
than others do; nevertheless
my exquisite miniature wrongs
enable Evils larger than mine
by geometric measures of scale
and so I am part of them.
I can tell myself every lie
in the big book of denial
about this, justify
a greed for self care

until I am exhausted
from that alone; in the end
neither self-talk
nor self-coddling will matter
when everything begins to burn;
all fingers will point at me,
the lazy demon,
as I burn twice, and I will howl
not from pain alone,
but in agreement
with your disgust.


Song For Shootings

Originally posted in 2004. Revised many times since.

Do you recall
Maggie Apple lying in the street
with her eggshell nails 
and her skinny legs with the calves that looked
as if they’d been attached to her bones
as an afterthought?

Do you recall old Ronald Wrong
whose house smelled of wine but
looked like a glove full of bees,
so when they banged down the door
and a host of trouble
flew out of its ramshackle fingers

they shot him as if he were
a queen, a danger queen?

Do you recall
any of those salty throated boys and girls
who put their breath in just the wrong place
at the wrong time so that magic stopped working,
and they died like the rest of the pack?

Tonight the same lights flashing,
the same crowd gathering: the names
must be changed to protect the names alone
because the innocent are never saved.

One could say
such things
just happen; or
one could say
that the way
the boy is crumpled
leaking onto the floor of
the stairwell is irrelevant, or that
the cop’s statement
that he thought he saw
a gun was relevant.

If one could find the CD
the boy was said to be holding
when he was shot, one could see
if the subject matter of said CD
included guns or shooting
and thus was relevant.

If one could be objective about this
one could make up a simple song
to commemorate the event.
It would have a short verse and
the chorus would be over
in a heartbeat.

He was alive,
now he is gone;
smart kid who did
nothing wrong.

That’s not enough.
Fell down the stairs.
Bullet inside him.
Everyone stares.

Gun or wallet.
CD or knife.
Wrong place and time.
So much for life.

You say
if he had only known what was going to happen,
he would never have gone up to the roof at all?

You say
they post those doors for a reason, and what 
was he doing there in the first place?

When the people who live there say, 
going to the roof? Everyone does that.
It’s a quick route to the next building, 
you say,
well, that’s not supposed to happen…

Do you recall Maggie Apple, 
red sand bag
in the street?

Do you recall Ronald Wrong 
stung by bullets,
tumbling off his porch?

Did you forget all those kids?
Forget about 
phone, wallet,
skin, voice,
hat, hood,
place, time;

did you forget
how they leaked out on TV
in front of you sitting there
calmly chewing…

do you pretend
not to see that
something must depend
on this happening
or it would not happen
so often?

You wring your hands,
hum a little shame song;

then, you swallow.


Minou Minou

Fifty thousand cats
owned by twenty thousand grandmothers
in my hometown and
every last one of those cats
was named Minou

That should tell you 
everything you need to know
about my hometown
but if that’s not enough
you need to know

that naming a cat Minou is in French
the same as in English naming it Kitty
We all knew at once what to call 
any random cat we ran across
so every Minou belonged to all of us

Fifty thousand cats we shared
with the twenty thousand grandmothers
who shared us among themselves
All those eyes in windows felt at times
like care and at others like fear

In the evenings when the streetlights went on
twenty thousand voices calling “Minou Minou”
as well as “get yourselves home it’s dark”
and who were they calling out to 
but cats and kids eager to play in the night

We knew the kindly nature of those
who watched us as we tried to live and grow
all the replaceable cats and kids
with the interchangeable names 
long lines of us stretching back to Quebec

from where the ancestors came 
with armloads of cats
all named Minou
and kids with names
that varied little until only recently 

If they still call the cats Minou 
back in my hometown where I do not go
because of how hard it was
to play in the dark when I was young
then I have no need to go back

In my new dark home I take comfort
in my own cats who are not named Minou
far from twenty thousand pairs of eyes
working to make sure I’d end up exactly like 
all who’d come before me

It would have killed me
to end up there listening every night
to voices calling Minou Minou
taking little notice
of which cats showed up