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.

Immigrant

Where you come from
the people speak the language
of eyelids: all messages, direction,
and mission revealed
in hints of motion visible
behind shuttered faces. 

You can usually 
get past the noise level here,
but some days, you come home
and lie in the dark wishing
for someone to read
what you’re thinking.

Such a loud land
you’ve landed in: news
a broken set of bells
echoing every minute, opinion
half screaming angry,
half screaming in sorrow.
You wonder if it will ever
fall silent, then fear that moment
is coming soon and no one
will know what to do, 
except explode.


Chosen

World outside is greasy
with nonsense 
today; that wind
has some throat to it.
Had to get up early; no sleep

to be had with that voice
slipping around corners, 
through windows, along eaves.
Anyone would prefer

to stay in bed with that
chaos blowing so hard; rather
keep sleeping, keep screwing, 
keep blank and dark and quiet

pretending it’s going to end
as quickly and silently as it began,
but it doesn’t work that way; this same
scouring windstorm has blown

from first day to this one
and all that changes is who is here
to confront it and build new shelters
among its teeth. No matter how slippery

life gets, someone always finds a footing.
No matter how loud and dirty life gets,
someone always whispers
something clean enough 

to break through it. It might well
be you: uncomfortable you,
frightened you, present 
and dawning and perfect,

born in this time for this time.


Feeding The Birds

He’s feeding the birds
before putting out the trash —
making sure they’re fed,
making sure the recycling’s done
right, making sure of his own little circle.

He will not watch television this morning
because they’ll be showing the funeral
of a villain, and after all the funerals he’s wept at
he does not want to see 
the weeping at this one.

He’s feeding the birds
before putting out the trash,
before anything else he might do
to avoid the prattle and rattle
of ceremony.

He will not stop thinking
“rot in hell” today
because it’s the only way he can assuage
the horror of knowing the funeral means
the bastard got away with everything.

He’s feeding the birds. He’s putting out the trash.
He’s amazed he made it this far
and after all the funerals he’s been to,
he’s glad he lived to see this one although
he’s sorry it took this long.


Prayer To The Daymaker

Let there be one moment
exactly like the last one.
I dare you, Maker of Days,
to repeat yourself. To copycat
time, plagiarize yourself 
just this once — or twice.

It wasn’t perfect, I suspect,
although I was not paying attention
all the way through it; still, a perfect moment
isn’t perfect if it’s recorded, I suspect.
It has to live memorialized, static
in its recalled context. So even if it
had been perfect, there’s truly no way to know.
Only you, Maker, can in theory recall it entirely
and could in theory reproduce it. 

So I dare you, Daymaker: 
give it back. This was a learning day
and that was the capstone. I’m 
nearly educated to the point of tipping
and I need to be sure of what happened
to be sure of graduating into
the next unknown moment ripe
with potential perfection.
No one beside us will know it’s a glorious
rerun. No one beside us will know
I begged you to slow down and let me
have more out of the day than I strictly
deserved. Let me have the chance
to savor it or fear it correctly. Let me
be anything other than a man in despair
of aging into the dark.


Pushcart nomination…

Very pleased to note that Radius, an excellent online journal, has nominated my poem “The Patriarchy Apologizes” for a 2018 Pushcart Prize.

You can read the nomination essay and link to the nomination poems here.

Thanks to the editorial staff at Radius for the honor. 


Rough Ride

Been a rough ride: all
these broken spokes
in my wheels.

I have blamed myself
for never stopping
to repair, blamed 
myself for letting
myself rattle into
ruin, blamed myself
for how long I denied
that there was anything
wrong —

and only now
that I’m terminally loose
with damage,
starting to fall
finally apart
to the point of 
obsolescence,
only now

do I regret 
not doing my part
to set myself aside
from my damage
and help fix the road
for the next rider,

though I knew well
what had happened,
why it had happened,
and how many of us
it would take to fill the ruts
and potholes
that were designed
specifically

to slow us down,
break us,
and eventually
kill us.


Wedge Setter, Swinger Of Weight

Dear settler, dear pioneer spirit:

once the log is freed
from the rest of the trunk,
look at the grain, look at 
the potentially stubborn 
knots.  Pick your

spots, set the first
wedge, tap it in lightly
with your sledgehammer
till it’s upright and ready.

Step back.

Raise that hammer high –
your hands sliding apart,
then together, letting the natural
gravity bring it down

onto the hard, mashed-up
flat of the wedge, driving it
into the natural faults of the grain,
tearing it open until that piece falls away.

Reset, repeat

until it’s done,
until it’s all 
stacked and waiting
for its time to burn.

Dear settler, dear
pioneer spirit. Dear 
all-American sense of destiny
made manifest in brawny moves:

this has nothing to do with the wedge
and everything to do with the fire.

 

 


The Trailer

I have fretted
over not recalling my dreams 
until tonight
when I had one in which

two magazine-handsome white boys
laughed as they told me
they were going to steal the trailer
I was dragging up from the ditch
where it had rolled after detaching from the car
when I took that too-fast turn

up the hill;

this after I’d done all the work
of searching for it in the autumn brush
of the ruined industrial park
where it had rolled long ago

into near-invisibility
among the bittersweet

and wild grape vines
whose color almost matched

its rust and dents;

I had not yet decided how to use it
or even to scrap it or sell it but
I had had a small vision of it becoming 
the basis for a small side business to help me
survive, no clear plan really, just an inkling
that something this usable and abandoned
shouldn’t be left to rot;

so when the laughing little men
in polos and good jeans from some
ungodly expensive store laughed at me
and said they were going to take it, and what
could I do about it against them, and how did I think
this was going to end, I did not bother to ask them
why they were doing it;

they were doing it because they could, because 
they had money, because they had family to back them,
because they were whitely empowered, because nothing
had prepared them to hear no, to believe in no, 
to even understand no; this was just a game to them —
to steal the most broken thing they could from someone
as broken as the thing they were going to steal
and to laugh as they were doing it;

and as American
and as low-down
and as modern

as all this was,
as much as I wanted

to walk away
from the trailer and the boys

and maybe even my car
and go drop my shame

into the nearby river
and drown with their laughter

in my dying ears,

I could not.

The knife from my pocket
was now in my strong hand.
The pepper gel from my pocket
was now in my other hand.
I had enough, enough, and I sprayed first
intending to slash right after —

and then I woke up
wringing wet, lying with the covers
kicked off as if this were still
the Fourth Of July, as if this were still
August the sixteenth

when it was still warm in the outside world,
when I wasn’t yet fighting for scraps,
when it seemed like I might yet win.


Full Stop

I sit more and more
with my
diminishing
presence
as the 
long-predicted end result
of a long-game genocide.

I feel like a full stop.

The Tribe doesn’t want me.
Why should they? I am only
a member by history,
not by presence,
not by physicality.

The Whiteness cannot understand
why it feels like a slap
that I’m seen as a full member.
Why should they? Who doesn’t want
to win, they ask?

I don’t.  Not that way.
I’m not, I whine. I’m not.

Dumbass. Of course you are, 

everyone else says:
the Tribe, the Whiteness,
all the individuals within and without;
even the chosen family,
even the ones I thought I loved and honored.

I think they are more right than I am.
Something in me doesn’t know how to listen.

I am the full stop.
The end result. This is what
the founders,
the original sinners of the nation
wanted — my simple

surrender to the default
once I’ve been 
denatured. 

What should I say,
what should I write
about wholeness in a place
that cannot use my wholeness?

What should I say that offers 
my entirety
when I do not have any evidence 
of it being real?

I sit more and more with myself
as a ghost to myself. Someone else’s 

proof of concept.


My Morning Face

My unintended
punk morning hair.

Skin minutely flaky;
thanks, Type 2.

Eyes still baggy
in spite of sleep.

The damn bifocals,
the damn need for them.

Mirror, mirror: I begin to see
how I will end

some years from now,
although maybe I will have

fewer than I hope
to have. I will go

waving some sign
of denial

or defiance
in the midst of slow

decline, having
burned myself down

on one more night,
one more long night,

half blind yet
still seeking clarity.

I put myself
in this place

and will not likely
ever be content with it,

but while I’m here
I will look ahead.

I chose this,
now and then

readily and
consciously, now and then 

in error
or without

intention; I will
own the place

I am in and the place
where I’m going,

refuse to comb
my hair

before I step into
the next world.


Copy And Paste

Revised.  Originally posted 11/1/2017.

Demonstrate 
your devotion to The Struggle
through copying and pasting

for I have a spreadsheet of justice 
shorter than Santa Claus’s

It has columns
and pivot tables

I keep track of shares and likes
and originators and sometimes

after seeing who liked this
and who shared it

I make a little mark about those
who never do anything

My spreadsheet of justice
tells me who I should love

Copy and paste this if you want
to end injustice 
or stop cancer

Someone is always
watching and 
listening

Perform
or be suspect


How To Be An American Artist: A Cautionary Tale

The artist wanted to paint America.

Took all the canvas in the studio out to a parking lot in a plaza in a small Massachusetts town.

Laid out paints and pigments, pots of blood drawn from a cut on the wrist, blood mixed with ashes of old sheet music and legal forms, dirt in rain water, boiled down hides and hair.

Set the canvases up on easels and car hoods. Laid them flat on sidewalk and asphalt.

Screamed to the curious folks gathering to see, 

I cannot do it alone.
I fail at doing it alone.
I am crushed here doing it alone. 

Started tossing brushes at the crowd.

Seized some by the shirt and tried to pull them to the canvases. 

There was whining and the artist was rudely shoved.

The crowd whimpered at the artist,

This is your job.
Your one job.
If it crushes you that is how we are best satisfied.
We don’t know what to paint. 

Accountants of the captains of industry showed up with sharp pencils and started precision drawings on the canvases.

Penciled in numbers, made up numbers:

here is what this should look like here,
here is the right shade for this face, this hand, this heart,
this hole in the skin, this slit in the eye,
this bit of necessary damage,
this hot mistake,
this brand,
this logo, this loop,
this flag.

This is how you paint America, they told the crowd.

The crowd stepped to it glad to know the rules and filled in the colors right and tight between the perfect lines.

When they ran out of blood, they made do with the artist.

What a genius,
they said,

once the artist was dead.


Greenwich Village

at eighteen, visiting
for the first time,

summer midweek
getaway with first love,

we walked by a Tibetan
restaurant late afternoon

while an unseen trumpet player —
maybe on a low roof, perhaps

in a window one floor up —
swung a perfect version of

“Rubber Ducky,” and we started 
singing along as we 

walked and swung our linked hands
back and forth, as we almost

skipped, as we 
sped through perfect light

toward our hotel room and 
perfect night.


Harvard Square

1.
A Tarot reader
off Harvard Square
 
startled me
when she said she saw
Native spirits behind me
 
and then asked if
I had any Native blood
 
I did not speak but nodded that
indeed I did
and she nodded back
 
and said,
“Wolf Clan?”
I nodded inside
 
but not to that
 
2.
Leaving the parlor
I stopped at a 7-11
 
to buy cigarettes
a yellow pack
 
of American Spirits
which burn slower and longer
I liked the taste
 
not the package
 
3.
I smoked my way over
to Au Bon Pain and sat outside
with a coffee black
 
staring at a street performer
a living statue
a Bride
 
who’d be famous one day
 
but was not just yet
 
4.
Class was starting soon
so I got up
and crossed Mass Ave
walked to the gates
went in and learned
something
I’ve since forgotten
 
but I think the class
was on either
the psychology of religion
or the madness of crowds
 
but I could be wrong
 
5.
I quit smoking years ago
Got tired of looking at the packages
and sucking that death
 
I quit going to Harvard Square
after seeing the Tarot reader
had been promoted from
occult appropriator
to manager
of Urban Outfitters
 
Au Bon Pain
closed sometime after
The Bride
quit all that standing around
got moving and
got a little famous
 
6.
There are still crowds rushing
all around the Square
 
The gates are still there
along with keepers
who don’t bother with masks
any longer
 
7.
A different card reader
told me the other day
she couldn’t read a thing
in me
 
and I nodded inside
but not at that
 
If I learned anything at Harvard
it was how to hold myself tight
against the madness of
the marketplace
no matter how cleverly
it disguises itself
 
as wisdom

Hypnic Jerks

I have often had the dream
of falling and the startling snap
of finding myself awake, 
panting, just before
hitting the ground.

There are those who say
falling in a dream
is only fatal if you 
hit the ground in the dream,

which must mean you’ll be dead
when you wake up after impact
and not before,

which only makes sense
if you don’t think about
how anyone knows all this

if those who struck bottom
died and did not come back to tell
the rest of us.

Sleep disorder researchers
claim that instead
of it being a just-missed death
that jerks you awake 

it is instead
a sudden oxygen deprivation 
in random muscles
causing a sleep twitch
called a hypnic jerk

and that is how the startled waking
at the bottom of the fall
is created.

Hypnic jerk or narrow escape:
either way, in the aftermath
of the dream I find myself 
awake with fading memory:
rushing air around my ears.
Face up, falling from a great height.
Anticipation dashed. A longing
to slip back into sleep, just to see
where I might have landed,
what that country 
would have been like.

Perhaps the myth of it being fatal 
not to wake up from the falling dream
was created and spread by those
who feared the masses’ discovery

of solid ground waiting
to catch and cradle and exalt 
those who fly in dreams
in spite of the fear of falling;
after all, who could say 
what might come from people
with no fear of their own dreams.