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.

After Jericho

I’m going to break
that wall with this trumpet,
even if I can just crack it
then let this coming
hard weather
do its part; I’ll gladly
play solo as it comes hurtling
down on itself and becomes
a heap of adobe and regret.

It might not be an immediate fall
but I can wait for what’s clearly
inevitable for as long as it takes.
No matter if I die waiting
as long as I can be buried
with my horn in my hands;
put us both near to where
those walls once stood.
I want my grave to be close by
in case someone tries to rebuild,
in case I am needed again. 

I swear to all who can hear
that I will rise to any battle
and bring shattering music to it,
no matter how dead I may seem.


It Has Stopped Now

It has stopped now.
No going forward.
It’s going to end right here
where it has stalled.

Gently, gently,
we call to it. If you’re
going to fail, do it
gently; fade, don’t explode.

Each day it sits there
we can hear a fuse
burning within, crisp sizzle
suggesting that 

it’s not listening or
can’t hear over 
that sound. It’s stopped
and going no further.

Its weight is sinking it.
Its rust is hindering it. 
It’s too close and too vast
for us to escape from

how this will end. Gently,
gently, we implore it.
It’s not listening. Shouting
gently, gently? Nothing. 

If history holds true,
we should be running 
now. Far away, as fast as
we can. But here we stay

praying for fadeaway, a getaway,
good closure or improbable escape
after all: but here it is, stopped,
right where we are.


Fatted Calf

When those bodies
hit the floor, falling
insensitively into
our lives via our
screens, poking 
once again at
our entitled sense
of safety (how dare
these children die
before we have a chance
to sit down from 
last week’s funerals)
we take barely
the customary moment
to stop and smell
the rancid smoke
of pyre thoughts
and cremation prayers
pouring from the ears
of those who might in fact
have the power
to stop this shit
before we let them 
kick the bullet-full can
down the blood-full road
while saying to ourselves
this time will be surely be
different as we keep one eye
of our fatted calf’s view
on the horizon
and wait.


Don’t Write A Poem When You’re High

Don’t write a poem when you’re high.
The words might be marked with hard labor.
You might forget how to make it look easy
and the struggle will be real for the reader,
not just for you. 

Don’t write a poem when you’re high.
It might sound like you put in work
and any instructions you followed from within
will be written on your hand for easy reference
and anyone who wants to look can look.

Don’t write a poem when you’re high —
if it happens by accident, don’t show it around.
Keep that one to yourself until you can erase
all the signs of how hard it was to get it on paper
without coughing up everything you’d been holding in. 


Headstone

As soon as I heard
that they’d set
my father’s headstone
I went to see it

with my carelessly curated stack
of memories and imagined moments
that should have happened
but did not

wrapped up tight like a deck
of worn index cards
with the essentials written
in carpenter’s pencil on each one

rubber band
holding it all together
so they would not come undone
in my pocket

elastic so old and 
blackened from age
that to attempt to open the pack
and sort truth from lies from wishes

would have meant losing
the whole of it to wind
or vagaries of chance 
revelation 

I’d hoped to leave them
on the base of the marker
then turn and go 
but here they still are 

stubborn and uncut 
back in my junk drawer
thick writing in crude lead
unfaded cryptic but clear

I will touch them now and again
whenever I go fishing
for a tool for some stubborn home repair
far beyond my capacity to achieve


Sun And Sundog

On the way home,
north on the highway;
falling sun on my left,
dim sundog in the clouds
to the right. Pillars
between which I roll
until I see the sundog
dead ahead.
The sun itself
has moved farther
to the left now, 

and then they are both
to my left
and the rainbow spot
once on the right has almost
come level now
with the nose corner of 
my left eye.

It’s my trajectory
that moves, not the 
sky. I know this —
but this illusion 
of change being
a destiny being achieved
beyond my own efforts
thrills me,
today at least.
One small joy
on this too often
untrustworthy path.
Today, at least,
I’m at peace,
moving between 
lights toward rest. 


Or So You’ve Been Told

You cross your fingers
and tell yourself that
if you are lucky
you will not be asked 
to open your bags
for inspection. You tote
too much of the forbidden
to be comfortable with that
if it happens. You fear
you’ll betray yourself
with your sweat
and be turned aside
for further investigation, or
be turned away completely,
ruining your last chance to 
get good and get gone. 

Or perhaps you’ll then be taken
to a stage, stripped, and told
to perform rationalizations
and apologies for an audience
who will say nothing as they stare
at the mess you’ve become,
all illnesses and stresses 
having broken through your skin
to manifest upon the body itself.
Once done, you’ll be redressed
and set back on the street
with your offending baggage.

You could tell yourself
you could try again to get by
but the line’s so much longer
than it was when you first arrived
here at this — station? terminal?
You can’t even say. You just came
because it felt like the way out;
after all, that’s what you’d been told
and the ones who told you seemed like
they had it on good authority.

The bags will seem
suspiciously lighter. 
You will open them
and rummage around
but you won’t figure out
what’s missing.

All this and you haven’t even 
packed yet. You’re waiting 
for a sign that it’s time.
You’re crossing your fingers
and swearing an oath
to take as little as you can
and still have enough
for the destination’s demands,
though you can’t know
what those will be until
you get there. What if
there’s nothing there at all?
What if it’s all provided
upon arrival, one of those
all-inclusive deals? 

Your hands are so cramped
you can’t even think straight
right now. You can’t uncross
anything about yourself 
after a lifetime of this.
You can’t just give it up,
get going, get gone. Not now,
not like this, or so
you’ve been told.


The Priests, The Kids, The Darkness

the priests
take the kids into 
their darkness

basements
bathrooms
rectories
residential schools

all the houses
of affirmation
of their darkness

the kids come out
or do not 
shine again or dim
and go out

but the darkness 
around the priests
remains as thick

as the last hours
on Golgotha
as in the tomb
behind the Scriptural stone

they love to talk
about how it was
rolled away

they never admit
to rolling it back
to hold in
the useful darkness

saying
waste not 
want not


Spirit Of ’76

It’s not like we’re unaware.
We all sense where it’s going
but the safest way for some to thrive
is to pretend that there’s no knowing.

It’s been this way for quite some time.
Obvious where we’re at.
No more hiding the longed-for crown
under a tri-corner hat.

No more fife, no more drum,
no more ragged flag.
Only the industrial song
of ghouls in fashionable drag.

No more dancing, no more gray,
no more letting be.
Only the chains of a fascist’s god
pretending it’s liberty. 

It’s not like we’re unaware.
We all know what is coming
but the safest way, some of us claim,
is simply to stop running.

They’ll surrender to the horde behind,
roll over on their backs,
and die by reason and in trust
that they’ll succeed with facts.

It’s been this way for quite some time.
Doesn’t matter what we desire.
We only get ahead of it
by turning toward their fire

and offering our best offense
in the war we’re already in;
we fight because the fight is here,
no matter if we win. 


The Little Table

A fat old man sits and writes at a little table
in his living room for a few hours
nearly every single day:  
most Sundays, most holidays, even on
his annual birthday, which he
always assumes will be his last
and therefore whatever he writes that day
will carry special poignancy for others,
even if it’s just a list of grievances,
even if it’s never published and only shared
among the few who knew him.

That fat old man, they’ll say,
shaking their heads before naming him:
he couldn’t get past this even in sickness and 
in death. (They will be correct, but then again
he never aspired to be anything, really,
except a poet — not a writer but a poet,
and we all know what cautionary tales they are
at heart,)

Fat old, stupid old man, they’ll say.
Dumb bastard could have done
so much more than dying broke and 
insufferably devoted to how to set
complaints to music.  Fat old
sickness-sodden man, they’ll say.
He had love and honor 
and all the rest of the beauty of the world
to pick from when he wrote
and this is what he left.

The fat old man sits and writes
at his little table, knowing
“fat” and “old” and “man”
and even  “poet”
mean nothing, really. He
means nothing either: all that matters
is the light in the tunnel
from here to the shaman’s world,
where the dragons at the far end
of the long hall wait in ecstasy
to welcome travelers upon arrival
and later to bid them grand farewells 
when they turn away to go back and speak
of what they’ve seen. You’ll be back,
they say, and this is why he sits
at the little table every day he can
for at least a few hours, even on Sundays,
even on holidays, and will until
he passes.


Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich

Revised.  Original post, 2007.

Ein Jeder Engel Ist Schrecklich (Every angel is terrifying). — Rilke

Close a door, open a door.
Write a letter, burn a letter.
Endings are as easy as beginnings
when there’s little potency attached.

What makes it hard to end or begin
is the Angel of Possibility
who hovers on the margin 
of each decision. 

Her scarred wings, her fruit-toned breath. 
Each time I have flown with her
I have been scared of the height
from which I might fall.

Tonight she floats at the edge of vision,
near the door, beckoning to me.
I pray for my feet
to remain on the ground — 

yet she is an Angel, after all,
and I begin to rise,
attended by all the terror
I can bear.


Wednesday For A Change

Heat’s off. Sun’s way up.
Just planted tomatoes and eggplants
are looking right
and upright, for a change.

Trash bagged and on the curb.
Recycling bins full but intact. 
Nothing got at anything left out
overnight, for a change.

Not a single dead opossum
or skunk on the road
in scent or sight, for a change.
The neighborhood can-hunters

banter pleasantly
as they divide the homes between them,
and everything gets put back 
in the right place, for a change.

It’s nothing out of the ordinary
when the ambulance arrives for
someone in the green house
across the street. But this time

someone is stretchered out — 
it’s been a while since that happened.
At least their face is showing this time,
for a change. Right up the street

await the tow trucks to move the cars
that block the path of the street sweepers
who finally have come to fulfill the prophecy
of the signs hung so long ago, no one

still believed it would happen; least of all
on a Wednesday trash day, can picking day,
garden getting started day, save the life of my child
day. All happening at once, for a change.


Happiness Above Angel Fire

The brand name
of a new psychiatric medication
floats in the commercial air
over a valley on the TV

I think I recognize
from a long ago trip
to the Enchanted Circle
of New Mexico.

Under that in parentheses
a generic name like a second,
awkward bird overflying the green valley 
in the bowl of the mountains.

It’s probably not
the valley I remember
of course. Too long ago
to be certain. Too many

prescriptions of my own
between the enchantment
of that place and these latest 
pills to promise more. 


Settlers

They settle.
It’s what they do.
“Colonial” now is just
a settled style, a label
for what to them is 
a quaint moment
in their past. “Frontier”
is a counter spell
they’ve settled on
to counteract
the miasma around
“genocide.”“Antebellum” prettifies
their mouths and settles
raw old acid in their stomachs,
and “settler” itself is now nobler
and sweeter than history
would suggest. 

They tell me to leave it alone,
say it’s just a way of speaking,
aren’t you tired of talking as if
it’s so damn deadly out here?
Settle down and look at the lovely eclipse
or something more or less not
killing you or those you love right now.
So much beauty in the world. So much
to be said for that, you one-note note taker
on the warped order of the settled places;

try speaking instead of what you think
of the sparrows and starlings. Speak of how they settle
on the feeders or the ground to eat and eat 
and shit and eat some more, of how they do it all
so natively you’d think they were here all along.
Settle in, half-breed; after all, you look like you could belong.
Find some beauty round here and act like 
you are the poet we know you can be and watch 
the sun come up over the old farm pastures
where the surveyors and diggers have yet to roam.


Magellan Song

revised from 2015; original post 2009; poems originally written 1994 or so

when I speak to you
of the way this is 
your eyes widen in surprise 

(or astonishment – the right word
makes so much difference
when one tries to describe the way this is)

it seems sometimes
that there are no right words 
to carry my full meaning

do you think 
I would speak to you
of hearts or say forever

that I would use tired words
remotely resembling
those dry and familiar forms

if I instead had language
that could make
how I feel more clear

all I have for you is known and common
a few small words
offered too early and too often 

I promise you
if I had been alive in mythic times
I would have invented language 

that would have
the syllables
I need

every word would have been a nail 
in the ark that saved
all the couples of the world

the covenant bow
that was revealed 
after the rain had dried 

would have colors
only you 
would be able to see 

I would have been clear enough
to have torn Babel down
all on my own 

if I had the right tongue 
I could reform history 
with improbable, impossible words — 

if I had the tongue
I need to speak my mind today
I swear I could remake the world 

hold it in the corners of my mouth
then offer its fresh contours to you
in a song of Magellan – 

a circumnavigator
now just barely remembered
but once his name

was the leading edge of a legend
an arc of hope
from known to unknown

if I could speak the words I need
I would conjure him
spell him into life this morning

put him to use as we sink our toes
into this cold Atlantic sand — 
look at all that horizon out there – 

its dark line
the promise
of unseen shores –

to reach it we will need new vocabulary 
but for now this is all
I can bring myself to say: 

come closer
stay close to me
sunrise can’t be too far away