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.

American Halloween

Let’s get on down to the Liquor Mart
before we start our good old
American Halloween. Paint our faces
red from inside with Fireball Whiskey. 
Prepare to dance the drunken stagger
of our barely-demon forebears
and fake evil till we make it. 
Lust for bodies naked underneath
their polyester shrouds. Taste
the solemn origins underneath
the blood on the stained receipts.
We can walk all hammered and commercial
through the rain falling thick as a screen.
It’s just the way it goes 
on American Halloween.

Then let’s head off to Walmart
to buy our way into
that good old American Halloween. Buy
matching costumes. Become
sexy pirates — no, let’s both be
Sexy Death and we can
split the workload. You take
the soft ones. I’ll take
the hard ones who don’t want to go,
the ones you have to tie up first.
We can split those who fall somewhere in between.
It’s just the kind of thing you do 
on American Halloween. 

At last let’s head off to the cemetery 
to close out this American Halloween. 
Stand among the stones
in smeared makeup giggling
at names we pretend we know. 
Recognizing some and avoiding those
because we are afraid of what they know.
Smashing our heads on the hard ground,
rousing the uncompromised ghosts 
and banshees who refuse to let us
off our blasphemous hooks. Saying not again
when the wind shakes the trees 
with a mocking rattle. We thought
we were pirates or two halves
of Sexy Death. What we are instead
are consumers in scenes tailored to
the falsehoods of American Halloween. 


Parties

Blue
or red
but both are  
white as well
as well as  
white as hell:

each built from
shaded interpretation,
then elucidation of
rationale for first mistakes
redoubled in each
subsequent mistake.  

All I want 
is to go home
to this place
of which they both speak
where no one I
have ever known
has ever lived. 

A mystery home
of joy and backslapping,
of setting shoulders in unison
to the common wheel
to pull the bounty on board
forward to
the common feast.

That someone 
has been from the start 
under the wheel
and that the bounty on board
is far from
common to all and in fact
is crushing to many?
Details. A pittance
in the bank of memory.

All I want 
is a home where I can rest
unbroken as I
have never been. Where 
the red and the blue and 
the white over our heads
is a banner, not a shroud. 


The Best Stories

First of all
in the best stories
there must be a dog,
a noble hound.

There must also be a cat —
scruffy and streetwise with
mystery surrounding it.
And in many there will be

a bird, often an owl,
that is perhaps
not as smart
as it looks.

You will
pick your familiar
from among them —
almost no one takes the owl,

more’s the pity,
unless they make an assumption 
that its apparently slow intelligence
hides something more profound; let it be

dog or cat for you if you wish.
There is not a wrong choice
if truth be told, as it always is
in the best stories.

Now that you’ve taken leave
of your prosaic self
for a while,
you can begin to quest

as a dog might quest – eager
to find the end of the trail
no matter how many distractions
tug you aside during your journey –

or as a cat might quest —
tiptoe prowler, sudden stopper,
sit down to contemplate
the whatever of the moment –

or, if by chance
you slipped into
the owl’s cloak
before the journey,

you will soar at night
above the others
and rest at dawn,
maybe calling to them

as they quest to suggest directions
or warn of hazards, using riddles
or ruses to test them, or perhaps
to clown them?

It’s in the telling
that the best stories
do their best work
but it’s hard to deny

the part each listener plays;
whatever form they choose
to take in the telling
has its own point of view

and in the best stories
the hero shifts among the listeners
until all are one or none,
until the tale is done.


Mummy

1.
The queen
dies.

The ancient white storm eclipses
colors on the horizon.

Who will come rejoicing
from behind those clouds

to see the coronation
of the new monarch, 

to come holding up the past
as proper future?

2.
Some of those who’ve been
struggling under that storm

for so long must now and then 
dream of the mummified queen 

on display in one
of their museums.

It’s not hard
to imagine the long lines 

of the curious, wringing wet
as they come in from the storm,

filing past the case
she’s in, whispering 

that they’d like to touch it
just to be certain.


No Games

The only dice I use
come in pairs, have six sides,
are cubes, and a bad roll
could get me killed.

The only dungeon I know
has no secret doors or prisoners
other than me and the only way out
is feet first. 

The only dragon I know
is the dragonfly that will come to you
one day with news I send
from the country of the dead. 

I have no time now
for any game in which
my life is not on 
the line. 


Revelation

It is short
but intense.
A deep
prod lingering
just long enough 
to increase your wonder
at how little
you really know
about what
you are capable
of feeling. 
When it happens
the air you’ve
been breathing
all along suddenly
tastes like
animal spirit, 
cinnamon
ghost. You sit up
straight looking for
some explanation
or at least for some
elder to interpret
but they all vanished
long ago and you
will have to fashion
the meaning of this
into a framework
for the remainder
of your time
all on your own. 
Whatever the rules
are from this point on
you won’t know 
until you break them,
the taste in your mouth
growing stronger
with every breach
until a longing like
cinnamon swirling
inside is all, is
everything. 


Parking

Riding around
old ground
saying

“that’s where
we used to”

and
“I remember
pulling over right there
so we could”

and
“all the times
when we’d stop there
before going home and we’d” 

and
“how about that one night
when we”

and 
starting to say 
something like that again
but then all
is forever changed because
they’ve put a development 
and
the road through the houses
comes out where
there used to be
a little pull-off
where we used to

It’s gone now

Every time
I ride through
this town
full of ghost parking places 
I end up mumbling

“there’s no way
anyone still does that
is there?
do the kids here 
still find places like that
for that?
where does it
happen now?”

then cussing myself
out for
staying too long under
this nagging cloud of
unfinished business
I have yet to
release


One Last Taste

At this end of your life
you should take the cups 
you’ve been offered 
and pour a little out of each
for all your much regretted
lost relationships, all of
your ruptured lifelong
conversations, whether
they died untended or
were killed on purpose
as mercy killing or for spite,
whether they ended
with no explanation 
or were left to die quite
consciously; however they failed,
take the cups you have left
and spill a little for what 
those who vanished offered you
in your shared time.

Tomorrow it will be your cup
lifted to someone else’s lips,
and you would want
to be honored for whatever
you brought to the tables,
bars, and counters
you once shared with them.
As you slip from memory
you’ll hope
they too will savor
one last taste
of how it was when
you were together. 


Not Getting It

The people
cackling madly
while they point and jeer
at what the vulgar old pig
and its brood stole
miss the sharp suited
emboldened criminals
busy stealing so much more.

The people
so insistent on 
institutional justice for what’s been done
miss the need to mete out
individualized justice now
to those doing much worse now.

The people
screaming for indictments
other people need to serve
on the past
miss what they ought to do themselves
for the future. This is why

the people
cheering so loudly
for a well done speech
miss the sound
of switchblades snapping open
behind them in the crowd,
of weapons being switched
from one-hit wonder
to rock and roll. 


A Bit Of Fat And Seed

I often spend my time here
in darkness because 
too often I am compelled
to it but then again 

I have never been good
at doing what I’m forced 
to do or tortured into
doing, so for a moment instead

I’ll celebrate how
that squirrel is eating
the hot suet in defiance
of the packaging

that swears they hate 
such flavors and even though
it means I’ll be refilling 
feeders more often 

than I should
and spending
money on
something I shouldn’t

if it makes me recognize a fellow contrarian
and offer them a bit of fat and seed
in solidarity, then I shall do so
and be, for one moment, content. 


Where I Am Is Always The Place Of Definitions

See myself,

cup of congealed blood
in shaded hand,
clouded leopard behind
in twilight
under broad leaves.

As always

what it means 
is literal
in one phase
of this plane, 
metaphorical
or nonsensical 
in others. 

The growl

of the cat. 
Iron sour stink
of the cup. All the 
gray light, shadows
moving slightly. The same
in whatever place
this is. All there is to do
is choose
between them.


The Deadly Piano

A complete rewrite of a twenty year old poem. 

She sits with her hands
twisting in her lap 
like kittens in a basket.

Her voice is just as furry
when she says, “I swear to God,
I can hear a piano

coming through the wall.” I hear nothing,
but try to soothe her by saying,
“Yes, it’s next door, they really like ragtime,”

and she clarifies, “NO, I MEAN A REAL PIANO
IS COMING THROUGH THE REAL WALL!
THE WHOLE DAMN THING IS BREAKING

ALL THE WAY THROUGH!”  I tell her she’s safe
and shake her noon pills from the sorter,
pour a glass of water.

She believes the walls exist
the same way I used to believe in God,
the same way she believes in the deadly piano.

I feel like I’m standing
watching a house burn
on the edge of a wilderness

as I rock her in my arms
amid the smell of smoke,
the soft meow she makes

in her sleep, 
the faint sound of music
from somewhere else.


It Used To Be Summer

Revised, from 2016.

I thought all day about summer
If it were only summer again
Thought about summer and not about work
Grabbed just enough hope to live on

I thought all day about summer sunset
How sunset opens the door to night
I like nighttime as it hides what scares me
All my terrors look worse in daylight

That fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy and staring at the clock

I keep thinking, if I were only eighteen again
When I knew nothing and everything too
To be eighteen in summer with sunset approaching
Was heaven until I blinked and it passed

No lie, adulthood has been terrible
Traded passion for wisdom and I surely regret it
I keep waiting for sunset to swallow it all
But damned if dawn doesn’t follow every time

With that fear of being part of the crowd
Nameless, faceless, brainless and numb
Stuck thinking all day how it used to be summer
Looking busy, staring at the clock


After

After
the lack of rain 
come the fires

Then after 
the fires 
come the wars

The water runs out
and then
comes the judgement

The eyes of
survivors
Dull from starving

Still alive enough
to know
where to find blame

Didn’t anyone tell us
Of course someone told us
There are so many shouting
It is all you can hear
There are multitudes crying
that this hot world is dying 
and no one replying
does enough to ease fear

After
the fear
comes the hunger

Tangled up
in the hunger
will come the scramble to live

After 
living a while 
past the end of the countries

We’ll find ways
to hate each other
Drawing lines in the dust


Messages

Words to live by:
nickel and dime.

As in nickel and dime
all the way into next month.

As in nickel and dime me, lover,
all the way to the end.

Or one might say
a thousand cuts.

As in here’s a lifestyle
perfect for the man

with a thousand cuts.
As in to get to the core

takes a thousand cuts.
Maybe the next words

ought not to be words
at all. Maybe instead 

the next message is
a backhand-slap 

reimagining of
a national anthem,

any country will do;
you don’t get to sing along

because you don’t know
this melody. It’s not the one

you grew up singing. 
It’s not what you were taught.

You’ve stopped sleeping and instead
wait for messages to come to you

in your dark bed. Your hope is that
the right one will come in overnight.

Your eyes sting in the morning
from eyestrain while

trying to read
something on the wall.