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.

Passages

When the architect passes
you still have the building.

When the musician passes
you still have the music.

When the person passes
you have what you remember — 

when Fats Domino passed,
when Little Richard passed,

I remember how their hands
looked on the keys.

I remember how I knew
from watching them that the piano

was not for me. I remember
nonetheless imagining

how it might have been my path 
in another life. I remember 

my own long years of lessons
and how I struggled. When

I heard of their passages,
I fell back into those struggles

and recalled the flash of sequins
from one, the explosive chords;

the strong steady rain of notes
from the other, the sideways smile.

But it’s not about me today.
It’s about gratitude and about

new holes in the air
around the building.

The building’s
still standing.

The music’s
still playing.


Casual Friday

Started out as Friday
but became a Monday
and thus the weekend
became confusing. I baked
a flourless cake and wept
over a Sunday dinner 
that felt more like Tuesday’s
leftovers, like the whole
leftover menu from the whole
week. Why do we bother naming
the days anyway — it reminds us
we once had schedules and places
to go on specific days.
I used to put on someone else’s
Sunday best, someone else’s
casual Friday wardrobe. Who
that person was I am not sure
I ever knew. Even the language
is missing its marks, drifting
from its targets, not achieving
its objectives. We used to talk 
of safety and job security and 
professionals and expertise
and those things meant something.
Maybe they will again, on some
future Monday that finally feels like
a Monday, a day on which
to resume our sacred hatred
of routines and dress codes
and learn to walk in lockstep
once again. I cannot wait
to see who it was
who used to wear these clothes.


Incident At Price Chopper

He’s standing in the dead middle
of the meat section at Price Chopper
screaming “HOW CAN THERE NOT BE
ANY FUCKING STEAK?” 

Someone comes out bearing chicken
from behind the steel clad gates
of the backroom where they cut meat
and stage the cases.

“Hey, you got any steak back there?”
“Steak? No sir. None.”
“How is that fucking even possible?”
“Sorry, sir.”

Both men talking and everyone watching
has a mask on, at least; everybody’s standing
two carts apart. Looks like the last scene
of a spaghetti western right before the last shootout.

The man with no steak turns his back on
the man with no name in a black mask
to start putting out the chicken. Spell’s broken —
it would never happen that way in a movie,

after all; no one would turn their backs
on anyone else, then all would pull
their stoic triggers, just business really, and 
someone would fall. That’s the way

it goes. No one would get any steak, of course,
but the steak is beside the point
in those films. What matters there is
the satisfaction of killing, of existential affirmation

through virtual elimination. It’s all
just a reason for the squint, for the stone
shine of focused gaze. For art, not for life  —
for now at least; but maybe tomorrow…

“How is that even fucking 
possible?”  “Sorry, sir.
There’s nothing. No sir, none.”
“I don’t believe you.

Liar.
Fake news.”
Then, gun.
Then, done. 


Delicious

How delicious it would be
to have a world that did not require
all this thinking — where instinct
and emotion were enough to carry civilizations
from birth to death — where guns
and brawn were acceptable in the face of
disease — where fear of the unknown
was codified into quick and dirty law —
where the individual could stand supreme
as long as they did not stand out too much
within the ranks — there would only be
a handful of Gods to choose from (if that)
to simplify the view — there could be
cultural differences if they were colorful
and easily adapted to commerce or control — 
where those who dared to philosophize
or speculate could be swiftly neutralized
or vaporized — where appropriate addictions
could be nationalized — where the bees 
flew in diminished numbers away from us
when we went outdoors — where the oil content
of every river basin was measurable
and extractable — where the sharks 
stayed in the movies — where the scent of sex
was routinely worn behind the ears — 
where flowers bloomed in the right beds
and only the right beds — where it all went away
at night — where night went away in the daylight —
where daylight was a property — where we all
understood the Rules and nobody balked at them
except to volunteer as a cautionary tale —
where the flags flapped regardless of wind —
where the wind blew regardless of flags —
where thought was good only for counting coin — 
where coins looked their best on closed eyes —
where all our eyes could be closed at any time.


Where The Great Work Begins

We were all bone-tired
before this
exaltation of humility
came upon us.

We may have looked
more madcap, more animated
from a distance, but
if you’d looked into 
our eyes, you would have seen
years of restless sleep

and no true relaxation,
regardless of what 
yoga magazines told us
we’d gained.

Scoff as you want.
Had we been truly mindful,
we would have forsaken
our lifestyles of abandon
decades ago.

Now, we have 
deep dreams 
in our sleep and they
drive us mad. Now,
we sit at home all day
chafing behind the ears
and in the center of our chests.
Now, we try to see a way forward
back to
that manic past

when half of us 
walked around pretending
we weren’t waiting
for a crash into hell

and the other half
walked around pretending
this was just the ramp up
to some temple of gold where,
at last, we’d truly
get a chance to rest.

Meanwhile,
nature
(or something like it)
made other plans.

Once upon a time,
before this real exhaustion
set in, we were all bone-tired
but we invented a phrase
to cover it up: “and they lived happily
ever after.” Something
to which we aspired. Something
that kept these dreams at bay.

A phrase where every word
now needs to be redefined.

Get some rest.
This is where
our Great Work begins.


Not A Dusk

To imagine our worlds
as settled in some aspects,
to understand
that some people dear to us

are no doubt now part of our pasts,

that while we may correspond 
we will never be in each others’
physical presence again,
yet still we shall continue

to speak to
and share in each other
in all other possible ways,

that we may even maintain love
and hate and care
at a long distance for the rest of 
our shared lives 

and never breathe
the same air again:

whether we sorrow
or rejoice in this,

the moment
we come to hold it
as a deep truth
and accept it

is not a dusk, 
but a dawn.


The Houses Where The Dead Lived

Touring the homes
of all the dead who have ever lived

Even the ones long gone
burned buried torn down vanished

Wandering halls
Opening rooms

Crossing borders to see
all the places the dead have been

Trying to learn
what it means

to remain present
after the body has gone

It is not something 
I have thought much about

until now
My friends will know me

till they’re gone
My family will pass

as I have passed
Not long now till then

Not long at least compared to 
for example those who lived

and cooked and cleaned
the palace at Knossos

who spoke to me
more than the kings did

who are called
the inhabitants by history

History forgets the cooks
and cleaners

who whisper to you
when you walk the houses

of the dead everywhere
in this world

leaving bones and soot
in piles removed

from where the kings walked
caretakers who have left more importance

behind them for us to listen to
in the ruins of the kings

than the kings
have ever done


The Grand Mask

Some say we must mask ourselves
to save ourselves and others

Others say we must unmask
to save America

and as for the world
beyond America

it can kiss 
our collective unmasked ass

Then again 
the face we know of 

America itself has
always been a mask

covering hypocrisy
with good intentions

Contradiction
is how it stays on

Putting a mask on a mask
like putting a hat on a hat

is as American as
viral pie

Ask anyone 
Ask Batman or

his predecessor in that
all-American myth of

the wealthy fighting oppression
Zorro

Ask the bleached out
Lone Ranger

They’ll sing you
the Star-Spangled Banner

through the blood
clotting in their mouths

and so many people 
masked or unmasked

will likely stand up
and sing along

as the Blue Angels
fly over trailing 

the ties for the grand mask
behind them


Bed

When your memory holds
a bed of nails
you never truly rest.

Once you think
you’re comfortable
a single adjustment

of your back
or even elbow
brings forth blood.

You get up and sit
by the window pretending
you are loved

as you try to wipe away
the red that only you
can see but which tints all.

It’s the middle of
the night. You’re trying
so hard. The bed

you wish you could use
is in the next room.
Coming from there

is a tiny sound
of sharpening. You’re alone,
or thought you were.

You don’t want to think
about who you’ve let in
to maintain the bed

while sitting up
worrying. Bleeding
isn’t supposed to be

an attractant
to anything but a shark,
or so you’ve been told,

but there you are
making tracks to the bedroom,
in case it’s anything else.

If it is a shark
you might die, but 
at least you’d forget why

it all went so 
bloody bad. How the nails
got there in the first place,

how many years you’ve been
trying to rest and just how bad
at that you have been.


Getting On My Nerves

Originally posted 2016. Revised.

Longing this morning
to trade back my boots
for the soft soles
I surrendered to get them.

I can’t feel the ground
when I walk in these.
Doctors try to tell me it’s
neuropathy from my diabetes.

They’re half right, I suspect;
certainly some shiny whiteness
is to blame and whether it’s the sugar
or the culture, it’s killing me

from the feeling parts up
to the thinking parts.
If I still had ancestors to ask about it
I would but they’re gone and they 

never knew me anyway. Maybe
it’s for the best that I’m numb
and becoming more numb the older
I get. Fewer things terrify me now.

I didn’t belong to those earlier times.
I don’t feel I belong in the ones we’re in now.
If I am afraid of anything anymore
it’s of finding a place where I truly fit in.

I still want to trade these hard boots
for the moccasins I had as a kid,
the moccasins people used to say
I should trade for the boots I wear now —

good tall boots made to hold you
separate from and untouched by earth,
the way it is these days;
even when you are put into that earth

they put you in a box
and that box goes into another box.
How is it right that even when I’m dead
I’ll have to lie forever in that tiny space?

Colonized in death as in life,
forbidden the right to return
to my own soil. It’s why I long
to trade my boots for moccasins

and walk away to find my own resting place
somewhere; if my feet burn
the whole way there, at least
that pain will be of my choosing.

Even if the grave I choose
turns out to have been dug from lies,
at least it will be mine. Any debate
over whether I belong there

will not be mine to argue.
I’ll decay and disappear 
like moccasins and boots do.
I’ll be as much of a myth one day

as I always knew I would be.
That’s the truth. I walk toward it
deliberately, my feet on fire
in boots not made for walking

or for feeling. I still feel
for now, if not as much
as I once did, which I guess 
is a bit of a blessing, anyway.


We Are All In This Together

but not in the way 
some folks mean it
with all color slipping off of others
and all sexuality of others draining away
All accents homogenized
All devolving into shapeless 
and nameless love targets to shoot at
and miss and miss again
because they have become
invisible 

We are all in this together

but not in the way 
some folks mean it
with a nod and a banged up
pot and spoon put to use every night
promptly at the same time to turn the heads
of the weary endangered folks
dying in droves to keep 
some folks
from dying in hordes

All in this together

though there are some folks who want
more of us together than seems reasonable right now
but they’ve got the right skin to make them
more audible and the perfect copper-jacketed
megaphones to amplify themselves in front of
the perfect places to be heard that some other folks
can’t even get near on a good day

and these are not good days

I don’t know who this “we” is
that is supposed to be in this together
No “we” I’ve ever seen 
No “we” I know of that is different from
the “we” someone has always insisted “we”
need to think of
whenever “they”
need us


Flowerpot

A painted clay flowerpot
broken, replaced by one of plain
red ceramic, replaced with 
a thick plastic one
that is then forgotten
or abandoned during a move
across town, which is then replaced with 
a discarded pickle bucket;
so goes the cycle.

Every year we plant the same small
selection of annuals
in this year’s pot of choice
or necessity. Every year’s 
a tradedown,
but we try to maintain 
the traditional facade,

which is why I’m drilling holes
in the bottom of this year’s pickle bucket
and picturing the flowers — petunias
or pansies or whatever looks good 
in the store when we go —
spilling over the sides in glory.
Maybe this year

we’ll measure up  — even after
downscaling, even after 
the shrunk-budgeting. Maybe 
this year, at last, it will look

like the pictures
on the seed packages.
Like all the pictures
we’ve ever seen.


3:30 PM

slippery
as a day getting away
from you

you look up and
it’s 3:30 PM

how did this happen
when there’s so much time available
just to watch the clock

it is possible that
the clock is dreaming you
and it’s the same time all the time

always 3:30 PM
and the day isn’t slippery at all
instead it sticks

is stuck and 
that means no one’s
getting away with anything

except for memory
which is sliding down
the road away from you

all you’re going to recall
of this is how 3:30 PM
keeps trying to kill you

staking you to a dull moment
and making you believe
there will be a tomorrow

different from today
less sticky 
you’ll seize that moment

and though it will wriggle
like an eel to escape
you will win and 3:30 PM

will do your bidding evermore
never again sneak up on you
never again offer such dread

you swear you will never be unproductive
at 3:30 PM ever again
once you get past today


Bipolar Nights

To sit up all night
crying because no one asked you 
what you meant by something you said
that was thrown away by the listeners
in the flow of conversation

is to lie down in a field knowing
that you may look like a corpse
but since no one sees you out there
no one comes to see
if you are still alive.

To sit up all night
wondering why no one gets
any of your subtlety
when you metaphorically
gesture at your temple with a finger gun

then laugh it off as a joke
is to live in a ghost town
and one day fall into an old well,
breaking your self against the rock walls,
screaming for anyone other than a ghost to come.

To sit up all night
pretending to love yourself no matter
what you are or have been in the hope
that anyone seeing your effort will offer
to love you without condition

is to rise to the surface sputtering and choking
ten feet from shore, already beginning to sink again
but telling yourself the rising will continue until you
are high above the water in full flight
toward the stars.


The Black Snake

Standing in the marsh,
worried that the black snake
may strike here.

In the city, understanding
how the black snake owns me,
shaking at the prospect of doing without.

On the road ahead of
the black snake’s fangs,
driving on nothing but poison and fear.

In the bank built of
black snake scales,
the money hissing in the vaults.

In the home of homes, here is
God above dressed in greasy robes,
black snake in his pocket.

I start a fire in the clearing
where the black snake rises and sways
just beyond the light.

A wash of calm: I realize
I can learn to eat without
the black snake, I suppose.

Starve myself a while to starve it.
The black snake starves without us
as much as we starve without the black snake.

Look: black snake bones
under the moon, white as 
a belief drained of its blood.

Listen: that’s not the black snake
hissing. Wind, perhaps. Water,
maybe. The sun, of course, is silent.

Taste and smell: no oil
on the tongue, no musk
of the black snake.

Feel the earth agreeing
with the departure of the black snake,
gone back underground now.

How clearly we can see now.
How easily we move on from this — 
upright. Not on our bellies.