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.

Unforgettable

I didn’t forget enough
of your words or blows
to be healed — how
could I? My arms
and chest have thick, inflexible
scars. My ears are bent
to take in some but not all
of what there is to hear. If
you can see that this body
has been changed
by past abuse
so much that certain
functions are inalterably
compromised, why did you expect
you could waltz in, hat in hand,
and ask me to your dance
without my turning
my wounded back
upon you? It’s not like
I can dance to what is being
played in the room — I recognize
that it used to be mine, I see
it now and then can make
my clubbed toes hop,
but you’ve done something
to it. You’ve made it as forgettable
as you and what you’ve done
are not.


If (Mother Of Moons)

revised, original post 2016.

If a window opens in a wall
where there has never been a window, and
you are standing there at that moment
and watch it open.

If a second or so before that
you fuzz out and cannot afterward describe how it happened,
since no bricks appear to have been displaced
by the appearance of the window.

If no sound accompanied
the appearance of the window, yet
you do not show amazement
or fear upon the opening of the new window.

If the opening of the new window
seems as normal to you as the breathing of your newborn;
you hold your newborn up to the window
to let them see the moon.

If you hold the moon up to the newborn window
and let it shine, shine, shine;
if you look out the window
and observe a maze of walls, windows, light from other moons.

If you recognize that none of the walls and windows
look anything like your own and
the light from the other moons
changes you.

If you then begin to call yourself
Mother of Moons, though
you have always been this 
yet are naming this for the first time.

If you go out 
to seek other windowless walls and
you stand in front of them
until they change —

then every examined wall
shall become a window
and all the windows
shall spring open at once.


Broken Arm

an inaugural poem

Healing can certainly knit
an odd bend into a bone
but even so you will have to
lay your hand on a book
and swear to go forward

although you may not be able
to reach as far as you
once did and even if you can
it will feel different
for a long time

There will be pain

That it heals stronger
might turn out to be untrue

You won’t know right away

You may think it’s fine and then
suddenly one day something
will remind you it’s not
the same

Maybe you’ll learn
to compensate

Maybe you’ll shatter again
in the same spot

The break is there
You can’t forget it
and now you will find out
what it will mean
to the rest of your life


Mud Season

It hit us all in the middle
of the second week
of an undistinguished month —
it was spring, mud season,
not yet dry enough
to make us feel comfortable
that winter was over;
everything was average,
and that was odd enough.
We had thought
it would be a mad season
and that there would be chimeras
alighting on all our roofs
after the insane weather
and raging plagues
we’d been through.
It was nearly unbelievable
that we could trust reality
to do what it always did:
keep boringly on track with
equinox and seasonality.
We kept waiting for
golems to come knocking
and when they didn’t
we started daring to hope mythology
would stay put in our memories.
Even though we saw people
still dying, even though
there were still insurgents
surging and guns were everywhere,
somehow the fact that we’d seen
mud before just like this —
thick and laced with ice,
concealing old snow under a jacket
of filth — somehow the fact
that it was mud season and it looked
the same as always made us feel
plagues and idiots were finite
and would pass as surely as
this muck would likely dry out
and go green.


Syntax

An idea needs a noun and an adjective
to cling to as it grows. So we say, “red rose.”
Or, “stiff drink.” Or “fascist state.”

We push it with a verb and name an actor
to do the pushing, as in, “He plucked a red rose
and, after a stiff drink, raised his eyes and put his hope

into the fascist state.” Or, “With his placement of a red rose
on the coffin, he closed his eyes and pledged
to never give up fighting the fascist state

and swore off stiff drink until
the fight was won.” An idea longs for
its noun and adjective in order to be born.

Verbs move willy-nilly, dragging
their adverbs with them, mighty prepositions clinging
to all the words, drawing things together

in spite of their tiny stature. People think
they make words do their bidding.
Ideas? Ideas run the people. Ideas make it all happen:

red rose on a white flag;
white rose lying muddy in red street;
near-fascist state casting about for a leader;

big gun full of leaden ideas;
steel jackets on wanton mannequins;
skinjob soldiers eating honey from open corpses.


A Blasphemy

You need to understand
that I was what they wanted all along:
the Mistake beyond any blood quantum,
denatured Native boy turned White man
but not quite, somehow Nothing At All
because to admit my own split
is all in my head is to admit
my inherent lack of substance.

I detest myself as the proof
of their success — more than all
the forced sterilizations, more than
all the direct massacres and stolen bones,
more than even the mascots
and the plastic feathers on the sports fans —

I am what they wanted
all along: something less than real
and more than myth. It’s a Friday night
and I’m a touch more than fucked up about it —

a weekend ahead of being
a ghost of my expected iteration —
and then the week, and then another weekend,
and somewhere in that sequence I will eventually pass,
and the Nation is smoldering as it would
with or without me although some would say
it’s because of me and how I was made
that’s part of the reason the country ended up here.
I’m the token slipped into the Great Genocide Game
to get the balls rolling.

God, if you exist, this isn’t your whole fault.
It’s also mine. I failed to die soon enough
to make them regret me. They call me a dirty word
that isn’t even obscene enough to mask my own name,

which is beyond dirty,
a blasphemy of how
I was supposed to be
called forth.


A Question Of Love

When a question of love
is spoken out loud
a country may turn on a dime
swift as tornado, sink into itself
claiming a pain in its footing
makes it weak, or raise an alarm
of daisies as fragrant with blood
as with its own home soil; see

in this moment filled with
a question of love, of what and who
and how will it manifest itself, a country
refusing its own affections, some beyond
its acknowledgement, some more than it
can bear — how far it spins itself
away from embrace as it twists back upon
its old haunts and legacies;

a country slipping as it spins
avoiding a question of love, falls
upon that sword it has held to be
its best lover, turning bloody scars
back upon itself in a storm of petals
and fiery odor, how it imagines
high winds at its back instead of
blowing out from its core.


January Song, 2021

1.
A single quarter
falls out of my jeans
as I pull them off —
the usual Washington
on one side,
John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry fort
on the other. Once I’m settled
I put it in a safe place
as a token of
what was once possible
and now is just
small money.

2.
Chad proudly notes
that he dates women
of other races
but secretly admits
to himself that it’s
mostly as
a forensic
countermeasure.

3.
Can you see how
anonymous the streets are
now that they’re covered
in tossed-aside
masks?

4.
When the counting is done — counting
of cases, masks, and votes —
the dead shall surely come back
and shake us by the lapels saying
pay attention, pay us mind.

5.
It didn’t feel like anything,
really, after a while, and that’s
hard to understand. Some
seem more upset than others,
certainly, but in the last analysis
all clear emotion
is the privilege
of the involved
and I somehow
am no longer that.


What’s Next

With dagger or dirk.
Parang or machete.
Left behind bayonet
or stake fashioned from
old bloody wood.

In their night rises
our broad, bright day.

Still, terrible’s
walking among us.
Debate’s of no use.
Once you smell blood
in your neighborhood
you cannot lose the scent.

In their night rises
our broad, bright day.

No, not with guns;
if we are to remain able
to be human again
we cannot allow ourselves
to do what’s needed
from a distance. We’ll need
to feel the shock of blade on bone
in order to remember
how much better it was to be
who we were before.


Whitestench

The odor strangles sometimes,
merely distracts at others, always sets
my teeth to grinding.

I walk into a discussion where it flavors the air,
try to join in and I’m soon choking so much
the others can’t understand me.

I turn to art for solace and it rises from between
pages, stings my eyes till paintings blur;
even music reeks. That job interview

stank with it; this online forum — how is this
even possible — I cannot see its words
through the miasma.

The halls of Congress,
the trading floor of Wall Street, every tower
where a titan of industry schemes: all

are thick with it; they might be tombs —
one whiff of the air in there recalls
dead generations piled upon dead generations.

Now and then I even pick it up on
a breeze through a forest, a breeze
that must have passed over a pipeline.

Sometimes I can tell it is coming
directly from me — mouth,
clothes, being. Half of me wants

to flee myself; the other half
holds my breath,
pinches off my nose,

makes me duck,
get close to the ground,
look into myself for better air.


Regrets

An old friend, an unhealed wound,
rose from the road in my headlights.

I cried out and leaned on the horn,
stopped in time, got out and rushed to see
if they were in truth my companion
and I had hurt them more this time
than I had before our parting.
They were not there.

It was just some trick
of light in fog, but it seemed real enough
that I shook all the rest of the way home
and sat in the driveway a long time
before going in. Once inside I went
from room to room looking for others
but the house was, as it always is, empty.

Lying in bed, nerves smoldering, not dreaming:
longing for the road again, hoping a host
would be waiting for me in the mist,
hovering just above my road, just barely ahead;

the threat of possible collisions
just within the threshold of what I could bear
if I could just stop in time
before plowing through them again in spirit
as I had when they were still in flesh.


River And Wheel

I go to the river
as others have gone before me
and though it is cold
I enter the water
at the spot on the bank
where anglers have entered
for more years than are known
seeking food and sport
and perhaps a connection
to a wheel turning through time
so I can bring what is there
to the spot on the bank
where more people than are known
have entered for more years
than are known
seeking connection to more
than is known
and once I have pulled myself out
and am high and dry and warm
I turn back to the land
carrying with me more than I can know
yet somehow I do know
I am more full
than before I plunged in
and caught hold
of the wheel


For the Fancydancers

revised from march 2020
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

within days
of the contagion’s start
something

took me over
rolled my hands into chafed red fists
started punching through my pale shell 

I spend my mornings now
watching fancydancing videos

little girls in jingle dresses
little boys in full regalia stomping
all raising their arms against contagion

on small and common
snow-iced lawns
on the edges of empty roads 

in furrows left
in winter land
by spring and summer plowing

all of them elsewhere west of here
beyond this city
crowded still

with unbelievers shopping
for safety from what
they don’t yet fully believe is already among them

is no longer a rumor of plague
east and west of here
but no, not here

west of here
people are dancing
toward healing

I think of my sister
sick as sick can be now
in her jingle dress at eighteen

whatever is inside me pokes me gently
reminds me of smallpox blanket stories
says

this is how you survive


Tunneling

It seems
that I’ve been walking
through a tunnel for
a long time;

one hand on
each damp wall,
pinprick light behind me,
pinhole of hope ahead;

the lights
before and behind
have winked out
and here I am —

cold wet hands,
tearing my fingers open
on stones I cannot see.
I stop for a moment,

listening to dripping water,
listening for something scrambling
through the dark
toward me — and while there’s

nothing at all besides me
in here, I’m certain,
I need to feel fear anyway.
I’ve been told the dark is

terrifying my whole life,
after all. I’ve been told that tunnels
hold danger at their core,
but all I feel here is space.

Perhaps I am the danger?
The stones whisper that to me.
I don’t know if they can be trusted.
I don’t know if I can trust myself,

alone with myself in the dark.


Manifesto

First principle must be
that words matter more to you than
anything: ideas are in words

and all you need to release them
is a key that opens a chest full of
right words in which to trap physicality:

truth comes out of that
even if you must lie or fantasize a little
to strengthen a listener’s sensation:

based on what words you pluck
from your breath you recreate
this world as it truly is:

a paradox of course but
that is how it works
and always has:

ideas coated in words.
Truth coated in words.
Reality coated in words: it’s

mythic work — not lies,
enhanced sensing of how words
carry all, weight beyond meaning:

truth balanced on syllables
balanced on sensation and
under all, ideas. Bedrock.