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.

Enough, Enough

Enough with beating my head.
Enough with breaching my body.
Enough with inflicting low-burn pain
that never ends. Whatever
I’m supposed to be learning from this
I’ve either learned it and forgotten it
or can’t learn it and all you are doing
is for nothing. I already understand enough.
You can stop now. It’s enough, I get it —
stop offering lessons. I’m stubborn, dull,
stupid and terrified about how it all keeps growing.
I’m not going to use all this teaching anyway.
I’m going to drop out soon enough
so enough, more than enough. I see all of myself
in your pained eyes when I can’t remember
what you just said so enough with the
exasperation. I see the writing on the wall;
my name is at the bottom of the list
Enough with the understandable
second guessing. Enough, enough.
Enough with the drilling and the practice.
Way past being made perfect here. Enough.


Art (Mud)

Playing in noise like it’s mud,
joyful childhood mud, hard construction
even in rain mud, slog through
because home is on the other side mud.

Knee deep mud holding on to your waders;
that deep suck then rushing sound
when you pull free, almost falling on your face
with the effort.

You know you could could just go around.
You could just stop playing in mud,
give up the call of dark soaked clay
and grow up like they’ve been telling you
for years. All your friends did it — climbed up
and out and cleaned up and joined the world
of hard surfaces and silent journeys —

but that mud, that impromptu playground mud,
that naughty slop, that flying up splat landing sound
of mud being mud while you get in and get dirty?
Playing in noise like it’s mud because it is mud — earth
and water singing? You know you want in. You know
you were born for going back in with both feet.


A Woman In A White Dress

The strangest moment
I’ve ever had: there was
a party going on. A woman
in a white dress sat on my lap.
It was likely obvious
what we were doing — you know
what I mean. But people
were oblivious to it.
We were there and not there at once
in some way. We had made a shell
out of our indulgence, a wall so thick no one
could see through — or they could see,
and the wall was between us
and their awareness of us.
It doesn’t matter. It was so long ago.
It could never happen to me again,
and I don’t recall her name. I can barely
recall mine some days, let alone
any memory of how we managed to become
so invisible we could make love in public
without fear of discovery
or failure to perform. It doesn’t matter,
it was so long ago, it could never happen
again, and I refuse to tear myself open
recalling her name.


Beating On the Walls Of My House

A steady rhythm: rainy
windy night. Sleep ends
earlier than desired.
I take what little I’ve received
and rise.

This is who I am today, I guess.

I try to explain it to
my body. My body responds
with pain and upset.
I take what I receive
and rise.

My body and I agree
that I am nearly too old for this.

I’m losing my strength and my grasp.
My body is losing the will
to restore. Early to bed and
staggeringly early to rise
make this man
long to sleep forever
but the body resists, refuses
to approach the inevitable unknown.

I must take what I am given
and rise.

This is who I will be today, I guess:
a weakened man up far too early,
working far too hard for too little,
waiting out steady rain, strong winds,
a beating being drummed
upon the walls of my house.


Chordophones

The guitars my country of old men loves to hear
support the binary my country of old men adores.
They must have either six or twelve strings,
must be either acoustic or electric.

My country of old men mostly loves only songs
that are played on guitars. If there are
mandolins or banjos in the song they must be
there only as adjunct to guitars. Ukuleles

have their place among the acceptable
for their chiming and their cute faces; they look like
infant guitars to the old men and who would take
such candy from babies? They’ll surely outgrow them.

A bass guitar is acceptable; this is why it is called
a guitar. Any other instrument with strings
is inferior to guitar and should be at best
relegated to guitar support, say the old men

of my country. This is why no one around here
recognizes any kind of cuatro or knows what a saz is,
why no one has ever heard a vihuela, a charango,
a guitarra de Lisboa.

Those who play such dangerous instruments
keep to themselves around here for fear of
my country of old men. You have to spin the dials
a long time on secret radios to hear any of them played.

It’s as if the old men
know this would be
a different country if everyone
heard those sounds.


The Stench

Revised from 8/28/2020.

In first light I see
the black cat waiting for her food
below her perch in the kitchen window.

“Jump up, beautiful girl — you
can do it!”

She leaps up light,
lands heavy, settles in
to 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 weak 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
and ask the daily questions:

dare I turn on the television,
open my mail, think of how things
might be getting better or worse?
Dare I count the dead? Dare I count
sneers and curses? Dare I measure or note
the indifference of the alleged good majority
and call them out as the source of this smell?

It’s taken me far too long to call this as I sense this:
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;
odor so thick it coats my skin,
distorts my touch; a pale Stench
from a host of dark graves;
blood so soaked into our soil
that it stains every foundation
and leaks into the roots
of every tree and blade of grass.

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.

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

I’m sure it’s simpler than that.

My love is still asleep still in the next room.
All I want is for her to live through this
and thrive again, breathe clean again.
For myself? All I ask
is that I live long enough
to help clear the air.




The Hermit

You hold tightly to the belief
that there is only one being inside you.
How you will survive?

Your fear strangles you
whenever you hear a voice
that comes from within you,

a voice you do not recognize
that seems to know you. You say
it is just self-distortion, a mad memory.

Learned books have long said
it is vital to bring all beings within us
together under one name. Bah —

do not surrender your life
to learned books. Suppose instead
that you are a shell, a community,

and you long ago locked your doors
to the others. You’ve become the hermit
on the edge of their town,

the one they tell stories about.
Have you heard any of them? Maybe they
are curious or furious, as frightened of you

as you are of them? You should at least
crack open your door and listen. Ask them
to tell you their names and what they know

of you. Offer them a small meal
if they agree to come sit before the fire
in your hermitage. Don’t talk. Don’t

argue with them. Call them by their
names as you thank them
each in turn for what you learn.

Once they leave, not long before dawn,
you will sit by the coals until you fall well-asleep
for the first time in a long, long time.


Tradition

The lights going out,
the body count,
the murderous twitching
of hollering masses.

Fire, flood,
etc.; a terrifying
traditional list of plagues
and calamities; nothing
undocumented
or unprophesied.

You stare
at pictures of small, cute, furry.
All you want
is to put your arms around
a baby alpaca.

That’s also a tradition:
putting your trust in the belief
that the New World
will save you from the Old.


The Myth Of The Wren

Days ago, a wren flew into my parents’ house
when my dad left the front door open.

The bird flew confused from room to room
and never once sang.

I chased it down, caught it under a towel
on top of the living room curtains

and took it back outdoors where it sat
for a second on the front walk railing

before flying away. Today
I saw one outside the dining room window there

and it sang, over and over. Neither
my snoozing father nor my deaf mother heard.

I do not know if this was
the same bird, but I hope it was.

I will imagine it was
until the last of our days in that house

when the rooms will be emptied
of the aged furniture

and those curtains will come down;
until the carpets are gone as they are both gone

and I lock the door behind me;
until all that will be left

will be memories of myths
of birdsong, gratitude, and escape.




Columbus Again

waking again surprised to be
still alive this far out to sea
so far from the shore
and grounded living

awake same time daily
then fall right back to sleep
upon seeing and feeling
the same old drift

you have to wonder
if this started with Columbus
thirty five days into his voyage
not knowing the next day

would change all forever
you have to wonder how
he expressed his hope
to his men and to himself

that they would land somewhere full of plunder
and how many today
are rolling their hands
over and over against each other

with the same hope
that the new world on
the other side of this long drift
will offer them good luck and fortune

(no matter who else dies for it)
once this rotten ship
scrapes bottom upon
a yet unknown shore



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.