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.

The Last Postal Worker On Earth

If I were the last postal worker on earth
there would be too much left to deliver. Instead
I’d make a deep pile of all the unread letters
and bury myself in its dead center.

I’d find a way to breathe through mounds of junk.
I’d go tearing through the backlog trying to find
enough food and clothing to survive
in the packages. Of course,

someone out there would be waiting for me
to bring them what they wanted, what they needed,
what they’d been waiting for; longing to hear
from someone, yearning for the sound
of the lid coming down hard on the box
or the sight of the red flag raised upon its side.
I’d have no choice. No room for any of that.

Call me selfish or insane, but if I were
the last postal worker on earth
I’d have to stop being a postal worker at once
in the face of the mountain of need
that had fallen upon me. I know
I’d have to revert to relying on myself
for the most basic needs,
ones I’m not sure I can meet even now

as I wait for the mail carrier to come
and bring me, with no malice of their own,
nothing but dread, temptation,
and the searing murder of, once again,
not one damn love letter.


Excruciating Detail

Into excruciating detail we go.
We approach any fire focused on the embers at the edge.
We can describe the craquelure of each coal.
We can say whatever we want of shades and gradations
as long as we don’t speak of how close we are to being consumed.

Into excruciating detail we go.
We see haze and make up numbers to explain its depth.
We see smoke and metaphor it as dragon, as mushroom, as column.
We can say whatever we want of thickness and color and height
as long as we don’t choke on the constant approach of disaster.

Into excruciating detail we go.
We smell every singe on each hair currently on fire.
We speak of sweet and sour and acrid and my God, no words.
We can say whatever we want about the length of any given flame
as long as we ignore how bright and how hot we have become.


Aubade

Start the day by greeting
all the creatures in the house: the people, cats,
ferret, fish; the ones in the walls
and the ones in the cracks;

the ones who come out at night
and the ones who sometimes scurry past
at daybreak; the ones we do not even know
are there who would chill us into screaming
if we could see them.

This day brings so much to deal with.
Every day brings so much to deal with.

Start with acknowledgement of all the good and terror
that lives within our walls. Take that as your banner
when facing the burning world beyond them.


Cage Songs

Birds don’t sing
for freedom they already have.

Birds sing
for what they desire.

Imprison someone long enough
and they will learn to sing.

Prisoners who can hear birds
will offer cage songs in response.

Any prisoner who learns
how to sing cage songs

will eventually learn
how to make them beautiful.

The warden wants to keep them
from being free.

They will take
the cage songs from the singers,

sell them to the world,
call them freedom songs.

All those freedom songs began
as cage songs rising

in the throats of those
who have been locked down.

Listen to them, the warden says.
Listen to them singing like birds.

The warden might be telling the truth
but you would have to ask a prisoner

to be certain, and no one
wants that to happen. After all

your own chains
might be at risk.

You might feel
a powerful need to sing.


Dropping

Most mornings —
hell, every morning —

are for staring straight up
at those dots
stuck like pinholes
into the clouds, dots
growing larger against
the once-blessed sky.

Waiting all day
and long into the night,
shielding ourselves from
them —

all those shoes
dropping.


Tiny Movements

I keep catching tiny movements
in corners of the house. I look more closely
and find…nothing. But I’m sure of what I saw.

Something is here that stays only enough out of sight
to be elusive and yet comes into view often enough
to make it impossible to ignore.

Perhaps I’m losing my mind from seeing
all the demons we always knew were there
in the outside world coming out from under rocks

and crawling out of the garbage. Then again,
I’m assuming bad intent here. Maybe these are
benevolent? Then why hide? I could use a friend.

Maybe they came here
to hide from the demons
only to find me, and that is why they hide.

All I know for sure is that I’m getting used
to the idea of the unseen appearing in corners
I never used to look at

and in spite of myself, I’m beginning to think
that it might not be safer to keep my eyes closed,
but it might be more comfortable in the short run.


Labor Day

Originally posted 9/5/2011. Revised.

The rude elements
dressed your dirt-blessed hand.
Do not apologize for it.
Make the rich,
the distastefully clean,
shake it.  Make them see you: 
tired, aging too fast,
forearms threaded strong
from work. Force them
to see your clothes: how thin the fabric
on your jeans, the patches, 
the tears.  

Give them a moment
to take it all in,
then smack them. Seize their throats
and impress upon them
the everlasting schedule
of your simplified days —
each day you rise, sup,
work, sup, work, sup,
and sleep,
a routine broken
only by the time you steal back
to make a home, make children,
bounce the baby on your greasy knee.

None of the dirt you carry makes you
unclean. All of it was borne to make them
what they are. You deserve this anger
as you count pennies,
consider famine,
make do.  

You’re more glue
for this shiny cracked country
than any glitter-fed celebrity
or squinting dollar-breeding usurer;
make it known. Grab them one and all 
by their hands and at the very least,
make them shake yours — show them
that honest tan under your grime.

If their fear is a likely result,
it may be the wedge 
to open the doors
they’ve kept barred for so long.
Who better than you
to open them? Only your shoulder,
so long pressed to their wheels,
can possibly burst those locks.


The Liquid Inside Stars

There is a fluid inside
at least some stars,
I’m certain. I can feel it.
I can feel it falling onto me
from on high on clear nights
with no moon. I raise my head,
startled by a drop
from the dark above. Can feel
nothing on my skin afterward
but the pinpoint of impact shines
for a few seconds and I am
temporarily celestial as well.

Once back inside
when I fall into darkness again
I stare at that once star-bright spot
and remind myself that all I need
is to go back out there and lie down
(perhaps forever) naked under the sky
and eventually I shall become
a pointillist testament to an odd hope
that might be based in illusion but
then again, there I would be to silently refute
the doubters from death as I could not
from within my life, saying

look, I did shine; look, I am shining now —
whether from the soaking of stars
or the drenching of the sun, I shine.
I told you of the liquid in the stars
and here I am: proof.


Someone

That was never a border
until Someone made it one
in your name whether you cared
or not. Once it was there
you were expected to agree
with it and with all that it took
to keep it a border, from a wall
to a law. You were expected to be
fine with how those coming this way
were kept out, no matter how badly
the starved or sickened or died of thirst
or bullets. You were expected to forget
about their children and those cages and
those tinfoil blankets and how illness took them
and takes them and how Someone
takes them and trades them out
to terror homes and no one will find them
but they get to stay here since they’ve vanished
already and for Someone that counts as compassion
even as they call bottles of water left for future crossers
on this side of that made-up line
a form of treason. You are expected to forget
all Someone did there in favor of new outrages
upon which to focus your outlaw compassion —
but, do not forget. Do not forget that
Someone started there and
what you see there will be done over and over
here there and everywhere until you are unable
to focus and you surrender just as Someone
is waiting for you to do.


Shabby Time

none of us expected
a time so inflated
seams expanded almost to bursting

no longer a flow
instead as shabby
as a failing bridge

distance between seconds grown
nearly insurmountable
far side less and less certain

our history seems
more and more a series
of false supports to a span

over a gap
where those on each side
believe their ground

is all that is solid and
crossing it is folly
unnecessary madness

time being
at its essence beyond us
will eventually deflate

pull itself together
once we stop waiting for it
to tick just for us

instead let us stand
dead center upon that bridge
and whether we fall or rise

or hang suspended
let us accept what happens
in that perfected time

with full understanding
that from there truth
may look different depending

on where
you choose
to stand

but never is
in fact anything
more than truth

like time itself
forever beyond our belief
of what it should be




In Memoriam

When light was snuffed. When we
couldn’t see in darkness.

When wind took our power. When we
lay there like infants.

When storm was voice, was all we heard, all
we could hear. When we
waited for other sound: water
rising, trees tearing free, rising on wind
or water.

When fire loomed beyond our vision. When we
could feel heat from such a distance
it would have been as far as fantasy
if we did not know it was real.

When more was clearly going to happen,
then it did. When it happened, and
again when more happened. When we
grew old, grew tired of it happening,
grew inured to it happening.

When it happened at last;
hugely, completely. When we
became exhausted from witness.

When we chose
to move in darkness, fire, storm,
wind, and flood.

When we
did what we could far too late
but did it anyway.

When we
grew up at last.




About That Candle…

It’s said that it is better to light a candle
than curse the dark.

It used to be on a poster somewhere;
now it shows up on flickering screens.

Some of us have learned
how to be at greater peace in darkness

than we ever could be in the light.
Know this: that benevolent flame hurts

from out here. It reminds us
of where we are and how we are

not you. How we have adapted, how some
have even found a way to thrive

in darkness. Out here hope
is a danger, as it has been snuffed out so often

that to approach your distant candle
is an invitation to darkness

more profound for its rushing to take us back
just as we begin to adapt to light

and to imagine that we could have
what you have — although in truth,

some of what we saw there before
the wick failed left us puzzled: why would

what you have be any better than what we have
here — you with your sharp definitions, your

assumed clarity? Out here the world is soft,
we are careful to assume nothing,

and if we ever have cause
to light a fire

it will be one so fed and informed
by the dark we have always called home

that it will make the Shadow
you want to eliminate

grow so large you will beg us
for a way out, for understanding.


The Stench

1.
In first light I see
the black cat waiting for me
below the kitchen window perch.

“Jump up, beautiful girl — you
can do it!” I urge her and she leaps
up light, lands heavy, settles in
to her treats and wet food. The calico
does the same for her bowl across the room;
they are, for the moment, content.

I allow myself a thin smile
before I start the coffee,
before the scent fills the kitchen,
before I look out the front windows,
before I take a breath of the Stench out there.

2.
It takes me a hard breath or two
before I relax into the care
it takes to stand myself upright
in the teeth of the Stench.

3.
Dare I turn on the television? Dare I
open my mail? Dare I think of how things
might be getting better or worse?
Dare I count the dead?
Dare I count the sneers and curses?

Dare I measure
the indifference of the alleged good majority?

Dare I call them out as the deep source
of this smell?

4.
It’s taken me far too long to call it
as I sense it: that it is not behavior seen
or anger heard nearly as much as it is
an odor that chokes me,
makes everything taste less healthy;
an odor so thick it coats my skin
and distorts my touch; a Stench
from a host of graves, blood soaked
so deep into the soil it stains every foundation
and leaks into the roots of every tree
and blade of grass.

4.
In spite of how I choke upon the Stench
the cats seem to ignore it, are purring and happy,
falling back to sleep in their favorite spots
before I pour my first cup of coffee. I suck it down
and here I am again, wondering if today is the day
that I will suffocate at last.

5.
One cat sneezes. I look up to see
the calico stretching and reforming to her tight space.
She wheezes a bit. Might be the Stench,
might be simpler than that.

I’m sure it’s simpler than that.

I need to believe there are those I love
unaffected by the Stench.

6.
My love, asleep still in the next room?
All I want is for her to live through this
and thrive again, breathe clean again.

7.
As for myself, all I ask
is that I may live long enough
to help to clear the air.





Sharing

If you can keep a secret longer than it takes you
to walk from my mouth to the next available ear

you may learn from me a thing or two
about life itself, or perhaps less than life itself.

It may be the one insight needed, a last piece
to a puzzle you’ve had sitting undone for decades.

Of course, maybe the secret will only light up one absurd corner
of your own prosaic life, and you’ll shrug it off at once.

Or it will be in cipher form and so poorly made
you will lose interest at once and forget it before you’ve cracked it.

You may in fact only learn about my pretentious, pompous persona,
hiding place for a weakling attempting to seem strong.

All you need to do is approach me and ask to hear it.
I swear to you it will be told to you at once. You needn’t hang around.

I’m not the kind to make you stay with me longer than is necessary
for either of us. I will say I am the kind who needs to let it out,

in riddles sometimes but mostly in plain speech. Maybe you
are the same and you will go at once away from me and tell another.

Whatever: the world is always burning more or less everywhere
and if there are things we know that will douse a flame or more,

we should pour them out. So come close and listen. Maybe there’s something here that may save us all that will only work if shared.

If it’s time for sharing it, and you and I
are the only ones here, can we refuse each other?


The Road Taken

Now we are at remarkable.
Passed intriguing and interesting
long ago. Deep into ourselves
we’ve gone and look at the time:
how we marvel at the long run,
at how we fascinate ourselves with ourselves.

Around the corner is obsession.
Around the corner is a track that will take us
off into the trees on the hills above the lake
on the down side of the road. There will be
no turning back once we’re there.

We took this route not expecting we’d be
so into ourselves that we’d be unable to see
others. That we’d be stuck on a road
between drowning and tumbling over rocks
and have to follow it right to the end
into whatever abattoir might be sitting there.

If you sniff the wind, you can tell
how close we’re getting. You’ll call it
perfume, of course. In your head it will smell
like the colors of the flag. Like an eagle
not tearing at your back.