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.

Hearing Problem

Revised, from 2018.

It has taken me
nearly sixty two years
four thousand glasses of whisky
uncounted pounds of herb
pills upon pills
a taste for killer’s thrills
dozens of bodies held close
whose souls I kept at arm’s length
and countable but daunting numbers
of lost hours spent
chasing words into caverns
and trash heaps 

to realize I might have a hearing problem

I might have misheard 
my mother 
when she said 
don’t have kids
they will ruin your life

What she might have said was
don’t have kids
you will ruin
their lives

but thank God I followed her advice

for surely
surely
surely
either way
she was right


Going Through The Motions

hidden at my core 
is a small, dim light
what you see is just my shell
going through the motions

everything that looks sincere
as well as
everything that looks
faked or false

everything that seems solid or fluid
everything that seems remotely static
that shows I’m settled for life
into the nest of my identity

every cuddly blink
all the sighs and furtive glances
at thighs and backsides
all the human moves through the fair

all that action and lust
it’s all just
a package of motions
I’m going through

every rage at insult real or imagined
every dangled bait to draw attack
every sneer and morseled-out hateful offering
to war-doctors and high priests of the blinding

just going through the motions
so the world won’t notice
the dead lamp within
still stale and cold

everything I do out here
is motion — is lies
masturbatory once
now tedious hideous and old

dim light within like
a salt lamp rimed with dust
I tried to shine brightly once
but failed and started this pantomime

now and then thinking
my motions have become me
and I them
I’ve begun to forget my light 

it remains within 
and continues to dim 
but now and then it flares
I cannot predict or explain when

but when it does happen
I stop moving for a short time
and try to remember which I am 
the shadows of my motions or the light 


One Last Snowfall

Revised from February, 2011. Originally titled “Inertia.”

One last snowfall.
An afterthought,
though the calendar
still insists otherwise.

I refuse to clear the walk 
knowing the temperature
will rise tomorrow. 
Is this hope? I’m calling it hope

though it has been so long,
I’m uncertain. It may instead
be surrender, white flag
waved in the white face

of more on top of so much.
Story of my life, lately;
unwillingness to negotiate
with relentless, impersonal events.

The tendency of a body at rest
is to remain at rest unless acted upon
by an outside force. I’m not at all 
rested, though. The snow outside

has held me here but I’m still 
shaking in place. If this is
hope, I trust it less than despair.
Hope suggests you get up

and clear the walk
before it will enter. Despair
tells you to sit still and wait
for nothing to enter

except whatever comes when Hope
refuses to even glance at the house
when it passes on its rounds. Despair 
is trustworthy. Hope, on the other hand?

I can’t even get up to look out the window
to see hope pass by. Can’t even be bothered
to wave. The walk is never going to melt off
today, and tomorrow might be warmer,

but it will also be too late. 


How It’s Done

slow misstepping

arrhythmic
plodding to
the near-end

saying 
it all 
by saying nothing
directly

this is 
how it’s done

and it is

 


Patreon post — appreciation video

I’ve mentioned here before that I have a Patreon where dedicated supporters contribute small amounts of money per month to help me maintain a steady income and do my work.  

Most posts and perks of the site are not available to the public, but I made a post a couple of days ago in tribute to the late Robert Bly and I thought you might like to see it. 

Enjoy. 

RIP, Robert Bly


You Are Going To Be Fine

You are going to be fine,
they tell you; you are going
to find the bridge inside you
and cross your gaps. You are
about to see stones in the stream
before you and perceive all at once
that there is a path across
with only a few scary leaps. 

You are going to be fine,
they tell you; between
the appearance of the bridge
and the revelation of the stones
your agony must stem
from a choice you made
to have it in your life
as a lesson, as pain for gain
to help you find the path.

You are going to be fine,
they tell you; they say
you are in all the right places
at once: on this side of the stream,
with the bridge and the wet stones
between you and the far bank;
already through the worst of it
and on the other bank, weakly
dancing; with your pain holding you 
tight as you make the journey
no matter which way you choose.

You are going to be fine,
they tell you. You fall down
writhing on the cold floor
of your bathroom. That’s it,
they say. Dance it out. You roll
over on your back and stare 
at the peeling ceiling. That’s 
the way of this, they say. 
That’s the joy of the struggle.
You freeze there and can’t move.
That’s it, they say. You are
going to be fine. You hold on to that,
they say. No pain without gain,
they say, as you try not to cry.


An American Poem

This is an American poem;
I should insert
a nature image here.

I should purple
the mountains up,
like a god. Then I’ll chew

the scenery
until there’s nothing left
to suck from it.

This is an American poem;
it contains a rigged dance
of myth and cynicism.

In here we
we step on 
each others’ toes

then apologize nonstop until
the pain becomes so strong
we cannot help but lash out.

In every true American poem
there should be exuberant
ghosts and the sound

of babies, crying, screaming,
playing. Doing all the things
American babies have always done.

If you write it, they say:
Not the babies, please. Leave
the babies out of it, they are precious

and innocent. Bah, humbug,
you say even though it’s 
the Fourth of July. The Fourth

of July is built on dead children,
uses fireworks to justify 
a war everlasting.

In every great American poem
should be an America over half
of its readers do not recognize.

What’s that about ghosts? Don’t you 
recognize yourself in there?
Still cheering, still writing,

but reversed. A good mirror
shows you your other side.
A better one shows you more than one.

This is my American poem and if it’s any good
it’s chafing you like the dish on the table
with the turkey and all those sides

while the country, the nation,
even the purple mountains above it all 
look at all of us wondering

where they went wrong
that this is how it feels now
to write an American poem.


A Being In A High Wind

— for Robert Bly

On the side
of a Maine mountain

while walking toward
a bare stone summit

a high wind storms up
out of nowhere.

I know how to walk
against this sort of nuisance

when I’m on level ground, 
but this feels 

different. Moss underfoot,
and if I slip I may fall — 

non-fatally, but far enough
to be in pain, to perhaps need

assistance or even rescue
afterward. But I’m so close

to the highest point I’ve ever
reached on my own — this

high wind out of nowhere,
it’s nothing. If I fall, I might fall

or I might fly, I might rise
even farther. If I call out

for aid upon falling?
Whatever being might answer

might choose me to let me fall,
or might elevate me — whoever

or whatever makes the choice,
I should be grateful 

that I was here
upon this mountain

for as long as it took 
to be chosen. 


Across The Street

Across the street
Joe has hung
an American flag
with one blue stripe
out the window.

Calls the cops 
on the Black folks next door
at least once a month
for “looking in his windows”
or “parking too close to his driveway.”

It’s a narrow city street
in a low down part of town
and no one’s got room enough
to park their cars without being
on top of each other,

but Joe still blows the snow
from his driveway
against the windows of 
his neighbors all winter long
in an expression of his displeasure.

Loudly calls the folks next door
“the monkeys.” The cops
always come when he calls,
never do a damn thing,
but come out every time.

Joe likes to complain out loud
to everyone about all of this.
“What? I’m not supposed to have
property rights just because
I’m a registered sex offender?”

Joe’s son has a daughter.
I see her now and then
on the porch
sitting on Joe’s lap when they
come to visit.

At least, 
I assume it’s his granddaughter.
There can’t be any other
explanation. There just
can’t be. 

One time, someone
put a brick through
Joe’s windshield. He
called the cops and blamed
the next door neighbor.

The cops came 
and talked to everyone.
Kept them separate,
said they could 
prove nothing, did nothing.

I wish there was
something just and right
to say here,
but all I’ve got is that 
I’d move

but where is it going to be
any different unless
you go so far away you can’t
be found? Until then, I take comfort
knowing that I still have

more bricks in the backyard
should it come down
to that again, and 
the cops have yet to cross the street
whenever they’ve come:

the same cops who told me
that I should have known better
than to live here after the break-in
a few years ago, that things like that
never get solved in this neighborhood;

the same cops who took four hours 
on a Saturday night to come look at
the totaled cars when the stolen car
sideswiped half the street and was left
at the bottom of the hill in pieces;

the same cops who came through
our backyards with assault rifles
and dogs looking for a killer who
(we later learned) walked right by them
in drag down the sidewalk.

I could go on and on and on
but it’s all happening across 
the street right now, and 
I can’t move, so here I sit
on my bricks without a flag to fly.


To Desire

to desire is to have
a hand full of 
smoke, 

wisps slipping 
between 
fingers as they

disspate. to desire
is to be ready
to close 

a hand upon
what may never be
seized although

that smoke seems
thick enough to
be held. to desire

is to understand 
nothing but 
a need to hold smoke

as it rises from
fire around your feet.
hold it like a staff.

hold it like a handle
for rake or shovel.
better to desire than

to hold what you desire.
to hold is to require
action once it’s in your hand.

to desire is 
to play with
smoke as if it were

more than 
ungraspable scent
and obscured vision, 

is to ignore
how fiercely 
you are burning.


What You Can Get Away With

What you can get away with
in here is

at least three murders a day
depending on your
choice of food and 
drink and how much
electricity you use and
where you drive and how far
and for what purpose

What you can get away with
in here is 
tossing out a storm cloud
of sharp words for fun
as we used to do
with good old
lawn darts
(c’mon, you never met
a soul damaged by lawn darts
after all
must be one of those 
legends the weak tell
to shut the strong up)
and then laughing 
when they penetrate
someone’s head

What you can get away with 
in here is

cartoons on sports jerseys
and high school recreations of 
important-to-the-infrastructure
massacres by bullet
by oil and steel and a hundred
paper cuts from lethal treaties

What you can get away with 
in here is

blinkered messaging and 
whistling for hunting dogs
for some moonlight or daylight scramble
after prey you don’t even know but
once you corner them you can decide
you know enough
to pour blood out on the soil
(not to spill it
it’s no accident) 

What you can get away with 
in here is

blindly misunderstanding
who lets you get away
with all this and why
it serves them to have you
become what you are

and remain here laughing 
and tossing and shooting and 
buying and selling and 
what’s a little blood anyway


The Back Room

No matter what the front room thinks,
the back room knows this business stinks.

The front room puts its smile up front.
The back room’s smile is kept covert.

The front room just assumes it’s safe.
The back room knows it’s all a cage.

Whenever the front room goes to sleep
the back room fortifies its keep.

No matter what the front room thinks
what’s cooked in the back room always stinks.

 


Can’t Stop

Every animal in the house 
asleep except for me.

Maybe there’s a mouse at work 
somewhere in the walls,

but not to my ears.
It’s quiet enough that all I hear

is the warm air rising from the grates
and a plane headed for Boston,

or from Boston, forty miles
east of here. Soon there will be

the sound of the early train
passing the bottom of the hill;

traffic on the highway ramp
will pick up and after that

the apartments above me
will come alive and telegraph

busy mornings through
their floors to my ceilings.

We call this place a city
but unlike some others,

it definitely sleeps.
The animals here

take their need for
unconsciousness seriously,

as do I and I sit here acutely aware
of my own desire to fall away

and forget where I am 
for a few hours, yet here I am

watching the cats sleep
and thinking of my lover

asleep in the next room
while I pursue yesterday

all through the night
and into today,

hoping to catch it and shake it
until, somehow, it changes.


Blessings

You stood by his bedside
the day you left, offering
blessings for the life
he would live without you.

He lay there and sobbed
and reached out for you to 
stay and talk and stay and love
and stay, just stay.

You walked off in a cloud 
of blessings as if you’d sprayed
the room for bugs or to leave
some floral camouflage.

Understand that your blessings
by themselves healed nothing of wounds
the boy did not even see
until he became an old man

and lay back in a different bed
understanding at last how the damage
inflicted back then was neither your fault
nor his own, but that regardless 

the scent of it lingered
in every bedroom he’d been in since.
The stinging in his scars
was the burned-in message

that everyone leaves, eventually;
it might as well be him leaving, even
if it’s not today, even if he is alone
at the time, even if the room

is stifling with blessings 
and protection and love.
Nothing is forever,
his wounds have said at every dawn

since you walked away, applying
a serum as protective
as any blessed potion, 
if not as sweet.


Things Broken

Things broken
from long fruitful effort,
too shattered to be repaired,
shout more loudly of triumph
than any fanfare ever could:

a desiccated tendril of
a wild grape vine clinging to
a wooden fence after
the vine has died and fallen away;

an egg case 
for some insect or
spider, empty
on the back porch;

a pair of once-strong boots,
soles worn through, peeking 
at sunrise from where
they were placed neatly
inside a trash can on trash day,
as if ready to be worn again at once.