The Story

We have reached that point
in the Story where you can no longer deny
that you understand it,
that you have no part in authoring it,
that you have no role to play.

We have come to Page 101,
passed the exposition and the set up
for the main thread.
We have met the major characters
and heard their backstories.

We have come to that point in the Story
where we understand the Conflict clearly,
where we’ve seen everyone’s Tragic Flaw,
where we can sort Protagonist from Antagonist
with little effort, and where you see
how you’re written into the narrative,
even if you are confused about 

where you will end up at the plot’s
Climax.

We have reached that point in the Story
where we have to turn Page 101
and see, or write, the Next Chapter.

We have reached the point
where you have to decide
whether to take a conventional path
from here or step aside, become
a Divergence, a Tangent; whether
to advance the Action or provide 
an amusing or tedious aside
to the prevailing Narrative.

We have reached that point in the Story — 

and there you stand, finger in the air, asking
which way the wind blows before
deciding if you’re a writer
or a reader — as if you don’t know,
as if you have a choice. As if

you can deny that, close the book,
stick your head into the dark,
and dream up something else —
as if

it won’t be in the Story if you do.


Gandhi And King, King And Gandhi

Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.”   — Mahatma Gandhi

“The principle of self defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.” —  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi and King, you say, King
and Gandhi
Though you never quote them completely
or well

Please stop selling me
hippie shit
about how love is all
I need

and trying to convince me
of my own
deep need to unclench my fist
in the face

of someone who has said they
want to kill me
for my parentage and my wish to be
left alone to try

to live a life unlike the one
they think I should have
under their god and their sexytime rules
and all their ancient proverbs

So miss me with your
quick spouted peace talk 
If you don’t want to swing on one of them
stay out the way

Some folks have lived generations
ducking their fists
It’s time at last and as always
to swing back

Gandhi and King, you say, King
and Gandhi
You never quote them completely
or well


Emigrant

Starting from the right side
of your continent, if you are looking at 
a map as drawn according to custom,
with North at the top, South at the bottom,
East to the right and West to the left;

starting from your side 
of the continent, if you are thinking of
the land you are on as your own, or at least
as a point of departure toward 
what is not yours, not home, not yet
familiar ground;

starting from the one thing you can trust,
then: start from here, start now. Whatever
direction you choose, now,
start from here and now. Drive or
walk, take a train; stay on land and
refuse flights.  If the way you go
crosses water, take to a boat or a ship,
or wade through if you can. Start

with memory and souvenirs
of this starting place
tucked away in a bag or pocket and
go in whatever direction calls you.

There has to be a better fit somewhere.
There has to be better north, south, 
east or west of here; up, down, right
or left of here.

Travel.  Burn your feet out. Strain your legs
to snapping. Fall down at the end of the day.

Put your ear on the stones underfoot every night
before you sleep and listen for them
to sing a welcome to a here and now
you haven’t felt for a while.  Hum along
until you know the words. Fake
your comfort until you feel it;

until starting from here,
starting now,
once again is something
at least a little like

being home.


Patreon Update

Just letting folks know that the Patreon site I set up to help fund some of my work has been growing quite steadily, and as a result I was able to pay for a host of Web-related fees for this and the band’s site at the beginning of the month.

I’ll be releasing a limited edition eBook of selected poems as a perk for higher-level patrons in September, which is exciting.

If you want to check out the site, it is at https://www.patreon.com/TonyBrown.  Always happy to have new patrons, btw…

And the band’s Website that I mentioned earlier?  That’s at http://theduendeproject.com .


I Did Not

I did not punch a Nazi today
and I am sorry
Instead I punched my keyboard
until I’d named them and shamed them
Forgive me for avoiding violence
I am not opposed
I am just too weak

I did not pepper spray a racist today 
and I am sorry
Instead I found their address on the Internet
and took their job
but they lived through that
Forgive me for not killing them
I am not opposed
It’s just not my place

I did not scalp a Klansman today
and I am sorry
Instead I learned where he lived
and shamed him to his parents
Forgive me for not letting his blood
I am not opposed
It’s just not within my strength

I did what I could today
and stood up to my father
My uncle
My brother and sister
when they spouted evil and sounded evil
I carved them from my life
and it hurt like a death though I survived
Forgive me for this weakness
I am not opposed
I am merely lonely enough without them
to have hesitated

Forgive me for the Nazis 
the Whitelords and the Proud Boys
I am not a steel enough wall to save us from them
or from their furious stymied anger
Instead I reflect on how I made them happen
by apologizing and doing little to stop them

I am game to admit they are my fault
and that I’m not enough to finish what I started


America For Dummies

Originally posted in 2010.

Shut up 
you finger pointing bastards
who try to to teach us who we are
and how stupid we are to be who we are
We know ourselves pretty well

This is the USA after all
A whole culture based in constant apology
“Sorry we don’t live up to what we claim to be”
It’s the most human thing we are
except that we work it harder than most

You think us
unaware of our dangerous contradictions
How we’ve got love for the kiss of gangsta hand
Yet sleep uneasy thinking of it against our cheeks
We’ve got mad love for the wrong side of town
As long it’s only a quick stroll to safety
We’re uneasy with what we love
but we just want to live without thinking sometimes
We’re big block dummies who love a straight road
and rowdy pipes in full cry from underneath the ride 
and out of its crank windows
With the black exhaust we leave behind its own explanation
With cock rock blaring and explaining
Country music simplifying and explaining
Dumb pop flashing gold and skin to explain
and Las Vegas winning for the best explanation of all

You finger pointing bastards
You agenda manacled studs of opinion
You scolds and scourges and professional sobbing consciences
You don’t understand us at all

From the left we’ve got smug
From the right we’ve got stern
We’re in the middle with the TV on
Plugged up ears and screwed up muddled hearts
Do you think we don’t know how screwed we are
with chatter and smoke obscuring the exits
and thick chains that have been set on the doors
but we’ve still got windows high in the walls to entice us
into believing the sun is still out there
though that light might just be another fire

Give us some credit

We know the powerful hold on to power
because that’s what we would do

We know the money makes life easier
because we don’t have enough ourselves

We know the earth is dying from a case of us
because we live here and can hear it cough

We know that wealth can be either poison or manna
because we plan to be rich one day and will have to choose

Right now we’ve got sick hearts
sick kids sick houses and cars
Not enough work and we’re numb from it
The wrong kind of work and we’re dumb from it
Give us liberty or give us convenience
Either way we’ll likely be here still
Give us social degradation or give us peace
Give us the comfort of our skin or give us death
We’ll likely be here still

Some point left to the door they think we should take
Others point right to the door they think we should take

We know in our guts 
that the only way out
is to break the wall down 
that holds both your doors

but we’re scared for the kids
the house
the car
and who will be standing on the other side 
when it goes

So we stay where we are
and pray to stay where we are
We stare at the TV and 
wring our hands and say

we’re not who we are
that isn’t who we are 
we aren’t who they are
stop pointing at us


You Have Three Minutes To Answer

Originally posted 1/14/2013.

Actual question from a test designed to assess creativity:  “Just suppose we had the power to transport ourselves anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye.  What would some benefits, problems, etc. of this power be?  You have three minutes to answer.”

First

I would move
six inches away
and rewrite my entire body of work
as if I had always been
six inches away from it.

Next

I would move back to where I had been
and rewrite everything again
so all of it would be so unlike
how it began
that it would be like starting over.

Then

I’d move
six inches
in a different direction
to see how it looked from there.

I’d end up
moving swiftly
around the house
without ceasing:

desk
to bed
to kitchen
to shitter
to shower
to desk
to bed.

Then

I might burn all my poems.
Go buy some expensive paper in Venice.
Write them all again
even shorter,
one word per pricey page.

So

six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Six inches away from the desk.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else far away.
Back at the desk.
Somewhere else again.
Back at the desk.

I’m

not really sure
how different
it would be.  

Not really certain
there would be powers
or benefits.

Not really certain
how much of a problem
it might be

except for the wear and tear
on my body
and 
the slippery possibility
of ever living
a grounded life.

Not sure it would be
that different.  Not sure
at all that this has not
already happened,

is not still happening

every three minutes

for three minutes at a time.


Keeping Time

Has your time here 
been a bass line
or a click track — 

did it ripple, 
did it march,
was it supple or

martial? Are there
fingerprints on
its flow, evidence of

choices, decisions,
imprecision,
or was it set in motion

early and
left to carry you
without shift or confusion

forward to this
void where you find yourself
now, pausing before 

a coda can begin
to see beyond
the overgrowth of

melody and lyric
with which you’ve
over-busied yourself

and discern whether
there was an organic
flow to your life,

or were you in fact
driven to closure
without deviation or 

flourish — and before
you resume, do you
want your time to end

as it began, or will you 
take time and wrestle it
to another path — set it

swinging or set it straight,
if for no other reason than to see
what you might have missed?


Fear Of A Brown Planet

Originally posted 5/26/2010.  Revised again, 9/28/2014. Third revision, 8/11/2017.

Noah invited no insects onto the ark, but they came anyway;
flies, roaches, gnats, and ants covering every square cubit
in a confident carpet of stubborn, resilient brown.

American bison, once endangered, have grown numerous,
leaving Yosemite to roam their old prairies, leading to calls
to thin them out, gun down some stubborn, resilient brown.

In the Gulf, scared men drop chemicals, lower booms onto
oil surging from a breached torrent they thought to own,
stare in despair at the mass of stubborn, resilient brown.

In Phoenix, water pours from sprinklers into dry soil,
desert held at bay by golf courses and lawns of green.
Let the effort lapse a bit, see the return of resilient brown.

South of here, along a man made line, patrols 
stare south into a shimmering oven, guarding against
a surge moving north — people of stubborn, resilient brown.

In tidy homes the fearful see everything as a threat
but are ashamed to say that what they fear most is 
the pastel walls of their world being restored

to surging, resilient brown.


The Despair Couch

A man lifts his head
from his despair couch,

sees pictures of 
his family on the table

across from his seat,
imagines them seeking

comfort. Right out loud
he asks the empty room:

where will we hide
if the fire comes?

I grew up and away
from having to think 

about this, and now
I have to think of it

again, not only for myself
but for loved ones, 

wondering how
to keep them

from the fire if it comes — 
and if fire comes

will I be ready, will I
know how to shelter us

from flame
and storm and

the long night
that will surely follow?

The pictures
do not respond,

staring into his
numb, silenced face.

A breeze shivers
the house.

The summer air 
simmers.

The couch accepts
his face as he falls

back into its warm,
illusory hug,

the night still safely
dark around him,

no sudden spark out there
breaking the world into coals.


Things Left Unlearned

How to walk into the light
with no effort.  How to 
stay lit as you fade. They say
glory waits for you 
somewhere. You say you
want a touch of glory now.
You wanted one yesterday.
You longed for one 
the day before yesterday.

How to walk into the light
silently. How to stay lit
as you slip into such a
good warm glow.
They say the strong are always
ready to speak up. You say
you spoke and spoke
your whole life and yet
you were weakened with every word.
You used one word yesterday and
sank to your knees. You used
one word the day before and
it staggered you. 

If only there had been a way
for you to walk screaming
through all your darkness
and come through it into a light
that was warm and not final. 
A light of growth and healing.
A light you could have borne 
on your stooped shoulders. 
A light that kept you steady
and quieted you down to live
in peace. 

How you walk on now
with the light on you burning
so much it hurts.  How you
disappear into it. How you
curse it in counterbalance
to aphorisms and proverbs.
How you go down talking
with people either listening
or not.  How you can
vanish without a care.


The Empty

I’d rather be
a horn 
in a great
player’s hands, or

a stout pocketknife
sitting on a woodcarver’s 
bench waiting
to whittle; 

I imagine there’s a master’s 
breath pouring through me
with some great song, or
a master’s hand wielding me

to pull a dragon from
a block of rosewood.
Channel, not channeler;
vessel to be emptied

of what has filled me
from a source, the Source.
I am nothing here but
glad to be of service,

seeing myself
as what rests in the Hand
of the Maker and what will be
laid aside when all is done.


Work To Be Done

I rise early to start work
upon a treatise 
to be called,

“An Inquiry Into Not Being
Violently Sick To My Stomach From
Reading The News.”

I don’t have a clue as to 
how to begin this. There
is no talk therapy for it.

Every effective pill is either fatal
or so obliterating that
the rest of my life

would be swept away too.
I could do what some do and 
never open a book or paper

again and try to forget, sink into
coffee or beer or weed, play 
the oldest music I could remember,

plug into unplugging from the right now.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t tried
all that; I’m not capable of lying

anymore. My stomach keeps me
honest, spits up truth in spite of my fear.
As convulsed as I am minute to minute 

it would be hard to say
I’m not a better person for it:
my gut’s well-toned enough now

from retching to take whatever
stab or blow or bullet that comes;
even if I am pierced, even if I am killed,

I will leave this work behind and survive.
I dip my head over the page,
fight back what’s in my throat, and begin.


The War Face Down

The war is lying face down
on a hard cot. Legs twitch, 
breathing gets hard. I think
the war is dreaming much as

a dog dreams. People always say
a dog dreams of running when
they see its legs jerk like that.
Truth is, we don’t know what 

dogs dream and neither do we know
what the war is dreaming about
except that it is not likely
to be anything good. Not like peace

offers much more than the war
to everyone, certainly not
to those who fight, not 
to those who die, not to those

left behind. When the war lies
there on its face, kicking and
whimpering, all I can think of is
hope and hate: hope it doesn’t

turn over so I can see
its restless, mashed up face;
hate the idea of the war waking,
turning 
face up, seeing me.


Small plug…

The music site “Bandcamp” is where my poetry and music group, The Duende Project, sells its work.  

Today, Bandcamp is donating 100% of its profits to the Transgender Law Center.

If you’d like to help out, and maybe grab some of our recorded work as well…

Our site is at http://theduendeproject.bandcamp.com .

While you’re on Bandcamp, check out the vast variety of music offered there. It’s a great site that does a fine job of helping music creators to make a little money from and promote their work.  

Thanks in advance for your time.