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.

Whatever Happens Now

It won’t happen, my fantasy
of finding my way from here
to a perfect off-grid palace
in a town of peace and care
for all who come there.

It won’t happen, my hope
of song as everyday speech,
music as deeper connection
of all who join in song, mutual
current running among all.

It won’t happen, my dream
of somehow all of us
pulling out of this tailspin
and soaring, swooping over
open land with joy and freedom.

Whatever happens now
instead of all this, I must trust
that a person exists who holds onto
what I cannot. Someone with stronger
dreams, less ready to fail.


The Mine

Could you tell the difference between
a suicide note and a poem 
in enough time to intervene?

Should you even intervene
with a poet on the verge?
Should you stop assuming metaphor,

instead presume the imminence
of poison or pistol? When a poet
offers pain or joy,

who knows
what’s being served?
Is it live or is it

memory, descriptive
or prescriptive, hot or cold,
raw or cooked or even

not a poem at all — 
not that it matters once
you’ve gotten your fill.

Have you gotten
your fill? The poet
is not supposed to care

as long as they’re empty
when they’re done.
As long as they have been

of some use. Or so
they’ve been told, over and over:
the unacknowledged legislators,

the news others die for, etc., 
etc. To be of some use,
even as they are consumed,

is all they should expect.
You read it, you dig it, you mine it;
they write it, it buries them, they die.


A Ghost Talking

1.
A ghost walking, hands clasping daggers on a rain-dimmed afternoon.
Too much on my mind; too little mind with which to hold it up.
I’m not a man anymore as much as I am something glimpsed and incorrectly identified.
A blur in the foreground of an old photograph. The viewers ask, in near-perfect unison:
Who is that rushing by, now almost out of frame?

2.
A ghost walking, carrying captured rainwater in two buckets: galvanized metal squeaking as they swing and slop over.
A vinyl album playing on a modern turntable in a second floor room, music in the wet air.
I don’t know this song but that is unquestionably Coleman Hawkins’ tone singing against the rest of the world’s noise.
A wide chorus hovering over the sidewalk five feet up, at near ear-level. Listeners in the vicinity ask:
is there a break in time that makes this so, and who is that ghost, whose water does it carry?

3.
A ghost who glides or floats cannot be described as a walking ghost according to strictest traditional guidelines.
If there is a ghost carrying water, holding knives, or simply floating empty, that’s something to be understood differently.
You ask: what am I not seeing, what am I seeing and not understanding, what am I missing about you?
I say only that I truly don’t know. If I am a ghost, I’m not a restless, disembodied entity as much as something transparent
I cannot fully explain. You see through me, past the love I encompass, past the life I could offer to you.


the American din

words you’d expect to use
are hereby banned

for the duration of
this conversation

instead of nation
we will say blanket

instead of cacophony
we say rust

instead of chaos
we shall say engine

for scream
instead we say the language of love

which is like a blanket 
over rust

flaking off from the rough shake
of the engine that propels us here

to the carnival
which we say instead of saying

brushfire
which we say instead of saying

a civil debate
which we say instead of saying

what we mean which is 
a way of saying we don’t know

what we mean when we insist upon
speaking of the language of love 

while the blanket
bursts into flame


the American quiet

in the American quiet
a voice that 
in other countries
is plain and 
acknowledged
becomes a nuisance,

an unnecessary
trumpeting of what
the American quiet claims
is so obvious it is
unnecessary to say it:

that people 
have a right to 
redress and 
even the rudest hint
of protest is still
to be honored

but in the American quiet
all you hear
is that the rudeness
of the hint negates
the gaping scream
of the sacred cry 
it portends

you could drown in the American quiet
and no one would hear you scream


All I’ve Been Given

All I’ve been given
and insist that I’ve lost
is somewhere,
not in my pocket or closet
but I have it all, I’m sure.

It’s a process of 
elimination — none of it 
is anywhere I’d expect it to be,
nowhere obvious or easy to access,
so it must be in the dirty recesses

of a chamber or box
I don’t like to acknowledge.
Even the shiny things,
things I should be proud to have
and display, are down there,

inside that, hidden 
from me and all others;
whatever I am is in there
for good or bad, and here I am
unwilling to dig and dirty my nails

for everyone to see 
how much work it is 
to tell all my truth.
I protect us all by failing
myself, or so I like to claim.


Wounds

A small, angry wound: short slit
on the side of my left thumb
from a clumsy test of the new edge
of an old Swiss Army knife.
It didn’t bleed at all
but somehow still hurts:
no more damage 
than a paper cut
but it’s hot and bothered
and more than bothersome.
The type of injury
you leave alone
and pretend it will heal
in short order

even though nothing on me
heals in short order anymore;
I ought to have known
this was going to happen,
having long been aware 
of how fragile the sugars
in my blood have rendered me
in late middle age. Knee
that will not stabilize;
hands that cannot grip
or sense; feet which imagine
against all other evidence
that they are always on fire,
and eyes that are beginning
to dim and twitch 
from dawn to dark.

I wish there was more of value
to say here: a deep lesson about mortality
or endurance, a metaphor for 
the state of the world, an insight
to lay my fears to rest;
all I’ve got is an inflamed thumb
and a list of chronic infractions against
my romantic fantasy
of having ever been
truly healthy and intact,
and I’m tired of looking at them.

Instead, I figure out a way
to type around them. I figure out a way
to walk while burning. I figure out
how the way things feel to me now
when I touch them with these new hands,
and I try to decide how I’ll manage
when I find myself, at some point,
in terminal dark.


Waiting For It To Finish

Sitting quietly
in my usual spot
waiting for coffee 
to finish brewing.

This is today,
just like yesterday.

I’m soft, I guess.
Soft and broken 
though broken and soft 
don’t feel compatible.
Torn, then.  Soft and 
shredded, all tore up.

I’m waiting 
for coffee to finish.

It’s just like yesterday
today. Right down 
to darkness, wind, rain,
what you might call 
desperation, what I call

today. Today is
hard and broken.
I’m soft and perforated.
It’s like yesterday,
coffee taking forever
to finish

brewing. 

I’m sitting in the usual spot
longing for it to finish.
Soft and broken in a soft way,
longing for a finish.
I wait for the finish but I’m not going
until I have my coffee. Today
is just like yesterday: broken.
Waiting softly torn for a finish.
It makes itself

known from the next room —

a gurgling. A soft 
sound, a strangulation
in progress, almost ready; I’m

waiting for today
as if it were yesterday.


Did Not

did or did not,
died or was killed,
suicide or homicide,

choose your focus:
another long day of lies
in a string of long days
or

one short night
you think is a

occasion for a burst
of truth

in the daily news
that feels like
just a
mystery

if it matters to you
or not, if you are sure
or not, if you have proof
or believe proof or not:

what are you going to do
except laugh at it or cry out
against it or make it into 
some middling joke to share
with the like minded

and those who did it
or did not

do indeed do
right out in the open

things you ought to
stop laughing at

and though mockery is all you have
or think you have 
or bother to use 

maybe

stop laughing 
pick a target
and do?


The Self-Help Taxi

“Stand on the corner,
you depressed bastard,

and wait. If you signal for it
joy will find you, certainly.

Certainly it’s only missing you
because you’ve made yourself

so small.  It’s as if you’ve shrunk
from what normal looks like.

Stick a hand up, make yourself
bigger, you sad beggar, and 

call joy to you. It’s not like
it’s going to come without that.

It’s not like you should expect it.
You, depressed. You, stunted. 

You, the one who won’t do 
what you’re supposed to do 

under illusion that this is not
under your control — call up

joy like a taxi
and get on board…”

so I did, and when I did
it missed me. Drove right by

and I nearly drowned 
in the puddle it almost splashed dry.

You know what? My arm is still up.
I’m still waiting — soaked through

but still hanging on for joy — though
God only knows why.


The Painting

In daily disguise as an average man
I keep my crazing under wraps.
This craquelure is not for the casual viewer.
I’ve never been able to explain what underlies it but now

this Average White Man-boy seeks closure.
Certainty. The ability to look the painting 
I have made of myself straight in the face
and call it artifice. To see through

what my parents made of me
and what I made of myself, 
point at something peeking through a crack
from under the surface, and say:

there I am, Average White Man-boy
through and through –or, look, there’s
the Mescalero, the Old One. There’s the Other
I was taught to believe was my canvas

and my truth. But what if, 
under all the trappings of Average,
I am in fact pure Average and Privilege
and it runs all the way through? What if

everything I have been schooled to show
while holding back a darker, better truth
is in fact all I am? Where will I begin again?
Why would I bother?

Straight up staring now
into the mirror and it’s pure Art there
looking back and even I can’t tell
if I was ever a good point to be made.

My parents whispered to me every night
that inside I should never paint myself White.
Then they started making sure
I’d never show a bit of what made that true,

and when I got my hands on my own pigments
and brushes, I kept it right up. I put crazy work
into that and kept telling myself it was all for show
and now I look and cannot see a damn bit

of what I claimed I was. I painted myself
into one sharp corner, and now Average White 
Man-boy can’t get out without slashing himself
to pieces and burning himself to ash.

It’s a choice, always a present choice.
How much of me is a lie, how much of me
is underlayment for the lie, how much am I willing
to live from, how much truth does the world require

of me? If I am to be honest, I trust
nothing of how I have existed until now.
Average White Man-boy. Pretty average picture.
Pretty much the same as all the others. Pretty much

as disposable as a sad-eyed clown
paint by numbers mess in a thrift store.
Buy me cheap for the novelty. I would.
Hang me in a guest bedroom. I would.

Laugh at me till
the novelty wears off
then toss me. I would.
It’s what anyone with any sense would do.


The Family Sleeping Rough Down the Street

Sixty-two degrees in late October
feels cold in the house,
unseasonably warm outdoors.

Stay outdoors until dusk 
and as the temperature descends
you choose to go back inside

where the temperature has risen
to a stifling sixty-eight degrees.
You open a window, just for

a few minutes, you tell yourself,
just to moderate what the sun did 
to your home while you were gone.

Now both indoors and outdoors
are in your house. Indoors echoes
with outdoor traffic, outdoors the neighbors

can, if they choose, attend to
your indoor music, smoke, and
inane conversations. You will shut

the windows before bed and call that
the end of the day, the reset moment
that reaffirms the distance between you

and that family sleeping rough
in the encampment down the street
who are permitted no distinction between

indoor and outdoor, private and public.
The noise and the cold are always there.
Home is a tarp and an abutment

and they are always well aware
of what the neighbors think.
You’ve thought it yourself

as you pulled your sweater tight
and closed yourself off: brrr…it’s getting so cold.
I’d hate to be them. That must be awful.


Focus

Enter, stage right, the muzzled
and the dumb. I am ready
to take them as they come.
I do not judge them for what they
seem unable to do;

we do such a good job of binding
and stupefying that it hardly seems fair
to stare down adversaries so stunted
they cannot see how tall
they could have been, or could still be.

It is not that I will stand for their aggression,
their threats, their torches and their guns:
no. If they come swinging 
I will swing; if shooting,

I will shoot. I have no good reason

to save these already destroyed,
though I pity them. I do in fact mourn
the need to do what I must to save myself
and those I loved. But I must
look beyond them to see 

the true enemy who made them
and use them and suck them dry
of cash and logic and compassion.
If I am made to hate anyone, I will reserve
that capacity for them. 


Filling A Vacuum

I spoke with the ancestors this morning before getting out of bed
and they told me I was doing exactly as well as expected

which would have been comforting if I did not know for a fact
that they were a pack of inveterate liars while they were alive

and the stats on the prophecies and opinions they’d made since their deaths
were ragged and imprecise and full of as much fable as before

But it felt good for a moment to think I was fulfilling a destiny
even if that may or may not be true

as perhaps my destiny is to be lied to by authorities living or dead
and wander and stumble over foundational untruths till I fall

and end up prostrate and wounded under the thumb of the dead
until they lift me up and stand me upright supported by more lies

They shall raise me up and give me a sword and point me
at other suckers who have been betrayed into infantry

and we will charge and gut and kill and be killed
thus taking our place among the exalted company

of liars grown fat upon the rewards gained by winking at the lied-to
becoming someone else’s revered ancestors full of untruth

Tomorrow morning I swear I will look them in the eyes
when they come before dawn whispering of my destiny

and I will say
I don’t believe you

and when they turn from me I will be adrift and lost
which some will say should be cause for joy at my freedom

but I will say nothing of joy as I will be straining into the silence
listening in vain for something else

which will ring of better truth even if it is not better truth
and which offers a path to a destiny I can live up to

no matter how small or venal
that fate might be


Toothache

A toothache
premonition

wakes him up
far enough ahead
of the morning alarm
that he has to decide
if it’s worth trying for
more sleep. He chooses

to return to bed and begin
trying to recall a time
before such bodied fear
became so common,
back when insurance and salary
were daily givens.

The time before cost
in lost attention and time
(and of course the money)
meant this much, before

just lying in bed wondering
what devastation this might cause
if it becomes more
than just a transient pain.
If it’s real and not just
an anxiety stabbing him
in his most densely packed
bag of terror. 

Not long after,
he gets up. Makes coffee,
drinks coffee, skips breakfast,
considers his work schedule,
forgets the pain, remembers
the pain, forgets the pain,
remembers the pain,
stops remembering the pain;
never quite manages
to forget 
the pain.