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.

Land Acknowledgement

When a civilization collapses,
it does not evaporate and vanish
but instead dissolves more or less slowly,

stains the earth and soil,
tints the waters for an age
or two after it appears to be gone.

What colors do you see 
under your feet? What is the tint
of what is in your glass? More to the point:

when you make a land
acknowledgment, open your mouths
to say “Today we stand on the land

of the Nipmuk, the Mskogee,
the Lakota,” do you think of this
in terms of what you can see and taste

right now, or is it more akin 
to describing long-extinct
fauna and flora? Do you even look

at where you are
before you speak?
We are dying to know. 


The Unlikely Event

In the unlikely event that I become the center of the universe
I would like it to be known that while I did not ask for it
I embraced the necessity of being the hub around which
this great disheveled wheel can spin as it threatens
to whirl off into the obvious darkness that waits to receive it
when the final day arrives with or without fanfare. Know that

I did not have to do much except sit there as my hair flew
on the undulating wind that rose around me from this whirl
of decay not slowing down but speeding up in a reversal
of what I always thought I knew of entropy, once again
revealing the limits of my understanding and even of my ability
to understand the wide repercussions of what was occurring. Know that

in the unlikely event that I become the center of the universe 
as we know it, I will have been as humble and as much a servant
to the mystery of how things tumble and fall as I am now, when 
the only universe I know keeps me edged out on the fringe of the spin
where I can feel it and see the trails of far away centrality 
that do not include me, have never done so, promise me nothing at all.

 


First

first we say now
then we say then.
once we know how
we say now is when. 

we say this
with one mouth
while still
of two minds.

so say we both
as we lose faith
and hope and
all the rest.

on a day 
in fall float
above the body
watching the body

open the capsules
and pour bitter
tranquilizers
into a green glass

of water until
it is half sleep sludge
and the rest is
not at all clear.

we say now and then
we say no. we say
now and then we say no
and then we fall away

into yes and yes again
and then no. and no.
and then no
thing at all until

awakening, bitter.
the mouth tastes it
when it is of one mind
at last again. sick

unto death but not
close enough. shove
the glass into
a black corner. close

our mouth and pretend
we are whole. we are
fifteen and already
a failure. we say that.


Third

For one long moment 
before October ends
in cooling November
after bursting
from September’s fire,

we stopped under trees,
thinking about
dark ways home
from here. 

One day.
Here, now.
A long time coming.
A long time still ahead
(even if how long
remains undetermined,
even if still shorter
than what’s come and 
gone).

A month
like this one just passed
was not promised.
No September
ever has been.

But October?
October,
threatened October,
is a different matter.

Put our clothes back on,
our jewelry. Walked out of
the woods
to the car.

Found a dark way home
to wait for winter.


Second

Drive fifteen miles north
into the forest between here
and the next place people
are bound to be, leave the car
with the keys still in it
in a rest area, walk some distance
across the leaf beds below
the huge old trees until
you cannot be seen from the road;

take off everything — poor clothes, 
random adornments, your long-inadequate
glasses, the bandage on your left arm;
lie on your back and stare up along the trunks
toward the sky that’s a rare shade
of black-tinged blue between the crown-shy
upper limbs of — what are these, oaks
or maples? You lift up a leaf to your eyes
and try to define and decide
but without glasses it’s all you can do 
not to close your eyes and say, enough
with naming things. Any other day
you’d have known without thinking.
Today, thinking is forbidden. No more
definitions, only one more decision
to be made — and the former wound
is already bleeding so even that 
seems to be complete.

What a sky to be under.
What a bed to enjoy.
What a time to be alive. 


Purification

On Sunday morning
you discover you are not
who you were 
the night before.
You were a mistake,
you’ve been corrected,
and it hurts but still you try
to maintain a facade of 
used to be
for the sake of
those you love.

Sadly, your hair
betrays you,
its random gray
and consistent wispiness
whispering, casting
your purification as 
perfidy. You plead 
that it’s not true,
but you can’t explain it 
well enough, and you are cast out
of the castle you’ve built
with all the ones you have loved — 
but the question remains:
if you have been purified,
if you are better off now
than you were
when you fell asleep
last night,
were you betrayed at all?


Something’s Red

The air or the light?
Something’s red.
The green house looks red —
what’s tinting it? Maybe
it’s neither air oe light — 
instead it could be that
my eyes are bad, full of rosewater
or fruit punch. Or the sun
is blushing from
being caught out
this early — a rise of shame, 
tiptoeing up the sky
until it can brazen it out.
I’m haven’t mentioned the air again
because it’s everywhere and it might
hear me and then who knows
what would happen. The air
might choke me or it might be
indifferent. Or perhaps it might say
“well done, that was a test just for you,”
and for a change the air
won’t depress or oppress me today
and all I will have to contend with
is the red light or the 
paint in my eyes which of course
might be blood, I just don’t want
to say that too loudly, it never pays
to acknowledge that the bleeding
you see in the world is all you.


Career Counseling

Our work is the work
of becoming complete
regardless of disruption — 
that’s the work we should crave,
or so the career counselors
tell us. They have books upon
books of self-guided exercises
full of words like
“mission” and “vision”
and “purpose” threaded
onto their thick pages — 
needlepoint philosophies
suitable for tattoos or
framing, quaint calligraphy
for perfect, well-washed 
walls in minimalist houses. 
Meanwhile too many of us
stare down grocery and utility 
disruptions as our true work dissolves
into a series of jobs, all of which serve others.
We are battered. We are tired
of being told to just lean in
and do what we love until the money
follows. The money never follows
whether we love what we do
or not. We are tired of leaning;
time to line up, find the wall,
and push. 


If It Is Not One Thing It Is Another

Am not amused by
the condensation between
the panes of the allegedly sealed
double paned living room window,
which is supposed to 

be impermeable to moisture 
yet there the moisture is,
a small cloud dampening the glass
in the space, an oval stain
there slightly off center; 
what am I supposed to

do about such a thing, what does it
mean now in these broke moments
that the windows themselves that offer
the only reliable view of what’s beyond me
are failing in the failing walls
of the house that’s failing
as I’m failing?


Come help with a manuscript!

A few days ago, I posted a poem called “What Are The Rules,” and had a moment of clarity about the fact that after all these years of doing this, I actually do have an understanding about poetry, my relationship to it, and how it works for me and perhaps for others as well.

Which led me to another thought: that maybe, just maybe, my long standing resistance to putting together a full length manuscript needs to come to an end.

I’m 61, and after literally 50+ years of doing this, my stubbornness about adhering to the whole DIY thing is bending a bit. Self-published chaps, eBooks for patrons, the public blog, all those things are going to remain in place, but I think I want something more — a collection out there that pulls together the stuff that matters most to me and that I think will have appeal to the more “mainstream readers” of poetry, who dig the whole “book culture” thing.  Also, y’know, mortality, legacy, etc…

So.  Into the fray with this. And I’d like your help.

On my Patreon site, I’m running a special offer (through November 22) in which anyone who joins, upgrades to, or is currently part of the site at the $10 and up tiers, will see posts, videos, drafts, etc. — not sure what exactly — of the process of putting together this beast.

I’ve got over 6,000 poems to consider; you can help me think about selection processes, ordering of the works, etc.  I need the assistance and the encouragement, so I hope you’ll jump into the conversation about the project.

More as this develops, but thanks in advance for considering this, and feel free to share the offer if you have friends who might want in.

Onward,
T


To Stand In The Rain

A good reason to stand in the rain
is so you can watch a bus driving away
for as long as it takes to disappear
and then if you like you can either go inside
or stand there a while longer, wondering
if it will by some strange reversal of your fortunes
and those of everyone on board
come back and restart all your lives
in dramatic or subtle ways
and forever after make the sensation 
of cold-soaked clothing clinging to your skin 
the greatest feeling you could ever imagine.

A good reason to stand in the rain
is when the air has gotten
so sharp inside that to breathe there
is to bleed there or to burn from within
so intensely that as the heat begins to dissolve you
from inside out you can look up openmouthed
into the dark nimbus above
and let the drowning of your pain commence 
as the downpour enters your core. 

A good reason to stand in the rain
is to feel something again
after you’ve been so numbed down 
by attempting to live in the light 
that thoughts of dawn and daylight
have come to mean nothing
and then you hear the water in the sky
coming for you and at last something
corresponds to the wild ocean
you’ve been holding within 
for fear of the shaking heads of those 
who just love you more when you’re on 
their dry and sunny shores. 

A good reason to stand in the rain
is how perfect you feel at last out there
even as the crowd inside waves at you
to get you to come in
and gestures with coats and umbrellas
to get you to come in 
and eventually turns their back on you
forgetting about even wanting you
to come in and be as warm and dry
as they are, even as the rain continues
uncaring for them while it bathes you
as you wish to be bathed,
as you have always wished to be bathed.


What Are The Rules

 You don’t use the word “love”
in a love letter. Instead you speak
of feather and turn and light under
the bedroom door. The curtains
serving as screen for
an independent film, the distance
from the summit of a volcano 
to the ocean’s edge still boiling
from its latest eruption. 

You don’t use the word “sorrow”
in a suicide note. Instead, try to explain
as carefully as possible how the wind
never relents, how peregrine falcons
can hang motionless of the edge of a cliff
for what seems like hours before
they plunge, productively,
to the ground below. 

You don’t use the word
“poem” in a poem. Instead, talk
of anthills and of how all we see
is what’s been moved to create
the truth of the living that goes on
out of sight, deep underground
where the queen nestles in the dark,
the unspeaking engine
for the trains that roll in and out
of the light. 


Don’t

Don’t,
he said.

Don’t take hold of
this suffering,
this blanket of sorrow,
and pull it up over 
your shoulders
like a cape before you go out
to face the blue-gray world.

It’s heavy, has lead in its hem,
and if you fall off into
the deep water below us
I won’t be able
to pull you up and out.

No matter how I might try,
he said,

the cape
is too heavy;

you have always been a superhero
to me, we both know I am not
and have never been;

the water down there
is deep and cold and if you sink
away from me, I shall follow you
down to the bottom and together 
we’ll drown when there’s
no need for that, we’re not
superheroes;

heroics
won’t solve a thing here.
We just have to take care,
watch where we step.

We’ll be alright,

he said. 


Autumn

Your living room couch
a blank hole.

Your affectless grin 
in the face of televised chatter.

Your bedeviled yard, filthy from
socialization you didn’t attend.

Half the community mourning
the departure of the sun,

half ecstatic in full plastic ghost worship
under the moon.

Your slow blinking apprehension
when you turn away from

this season of cooling and
finale; if ever there will be

rebirth, it seems mythically far off now,
a prophecy like any other:

affirmed only in retrospect,
long after you miss your chance

to prepare for it
and reap its joy when it comes.

You tell yourself there’s so much to do
before the snow, all those things

to be picked up and stowed 
before the first snow, before

the first snow. But
the living room couch is

a blank hole and there’s so much
chatter it’s hard to even think.

Instead you sit with the prophecies,
eyes shut tight, affectless grin in place.


Now I Am Stone

Once I could embrace
everything that had a pulse,
and since everything did, I drew 
everything in and held it
until I pulsed with it.

From plain old dirt to brand new seedlings.
From slippery sweet words of love to
harsh talk in the tongue of ravens,
those slow wrenching croaks.
From brilliant concept to laughing dismissal:

if it could move, and everything did,
I moved to grasp it and take its essence
into my own arrhythmic dance.
I would tell the tale of it, and then
I would run off chasing the next wild pulse. 

I am so far removed from pulse now
that all I know of it is what I recall and the words,
the dance of how it used to feel means so little
I may as well say nothing as I fade. Now, I am stone.
Nothing moves me. Instead, I cleave in place.