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.

What Comes Has A Voice

With everything turned off in the house
the only sounds are the knocking of the furnace
now and then, occasional scrabbling in the walls from
invader mice, the cat snoring
if I try really hard to hear.

It doesn’t sound like the apocalypse
unless you count the furnace sounds
as the voice of depletion, the mice as inheritors
of our ramshackle ruins, the snoring cat as
the voice of inattention to threats.

That is a choice one can make, I guess,
a choice to let things be what they are and 
not give them meaning. I have tried that
and been found wanting. I have been found longing
to let go, but then the cat stretches and snorts,

something moves in the walls, something
heats up under my feet, and is that the refrigerator
or the rumbling tide of history? 
Perhaps it is not, or it is, or perhaps what is daily
is also 
what is deadly, and the end is in fact near.


He Reserves The Right To Refuse Service

Step away from the table.
Back away slowly from the Tarot spread.

I’m done offering my take upon
the way the Hanged Man keeps coming up for you.

I can’t help it if you identify with him
and see my unwillingness to explain 

as proof of your martyrdom. 
I can’t help it if you see this as 

some grand conspiracy to make you
suffer.  The way it really works is,

you take what you get. This 
is a wildly impersonal world. I know

you want more assurance that it
vibrates on your behalf, but I can’t 

do that. Truth is,
the corner on that card

is bent and I think somehow
you cut to it every time.

I can’t help it that you continually
choose to remain suspended.

All I can do is pull the deck
from your hands and tell you:

go home and stop coming here.
You are beginning to scare me

with your need for certainty
and you desire to find it this way,

and as lucrative as your desperation is,
there are some bags of silver even I cannot take.


Burglars

My aging world view is trying to break in.
My disconnect is trying to break in.

Ember on my sternum
stinging. Hesitating before
going out or burning through
like a drill to my heart. Or maybe
like a pyre consuming all with 
a quickness.

My bank balance is trying to break in.
My bills are trying to break in.

Back of the head stiff from
vigilance. At the join between
the head and neck, pain
like a nut coming off a rusted bolt.
A screech inside me like that of
a caged raptor.

My blood sugar, trying to break in.
My blood pressure, trying to break in.

My feet? A fire that sometimes
howls and cracks, sometimes smolders;
then, there are those neuropathic moments
when a dry floor feels like it is swimming 
with dirty water and I lift them and go mad
to find them dry and feel them then reigniting.

My lonely off days, trying to break in.
My anxious on days, trying to break in.

Fuzzy on details from morning to night
like a blanket’s been thrown over me —
supposed to be for comfort, maybe, 
or like what they put on a corpse at a crime scene,
but I’m not dead yet. Or perhaps I am.
Or maybe it’s a matter of time.

My mania, trying to break in.
My depression, trying to break in.

Some will tell you that such burglars come
to steal spoons. I’ve got not one spoon left.
No,

they’re here for something else.


Sir?

It would be worth your time
to learn how to lie, 

sir. We can see
the smoke rising from

your pants, can see
your nose growing;

perhaps these are illusions
as well, tricky lighting

caused by the waving of
your flagship hair, the shadows

emptying from your mouth?
Sir, we can’t see you behind them —

unless all you are is shadow?
Sir? Are you nothing but smoke

and bad lighting, only a simulation
of human — some kind of 

puppet?  Sir, understand:
we are asking, do you bleed?

Do you weigh anything at all,
sir, or is your incorporeality

so galling to you that you feel
you must stamp this hard on the world?

It would be worth your time
to learn to be a better liar, sir.

Your smoke is showing.
There is nothing in the mirror.


Praise Song For The Rhythm Section

Praise for the Hammond,
for the towering Leslie
and how it warbles, how
it can break any jaded 
weariness, how it argues
against atheism, how it
silkens lounge air 
after midnight.

Praise for the 
hollow body of the archtop,
how it has seen better days
as its scars and scratches attest,
but still chops and pops as it 
always has, how it cuts
into thick despair, how it 
tosses back a pulse like
a whiskey cocktail.

Praise for the mysteries
of the kit, how hands and feet
are employed upon heads
and pedals, how the sticks
mediate between fresh heart and 
old smoke, how brushes
hiss like summer rain, how
immediate the church of the solo.

Praise for the dark cocoa burr
of the upright bass, how it
slips its sweet oil into and through
everything else, how it marks
time with shine and weight, how
it opens the floor below to show
how profound the depths are
below its solid footing.

As for those who stand aside now
as the rhythm section holds
what was and will
soon enough be theirs again:
as for singer, sax,
trumpet, cornet, clarinet?
Tonight is not for them.
Tonight is for this praise song

to what holds them
to the spotlight.
Tonight, instead, a praise song
of foundations,
bedrock,
a landscape from which
all else rises;
a praise song for
what sounds like
home.


A Man Like Him

A man sits back in a brown leather chair
and contemplates his own monstrosity,

allows himself
to remember

that he is sitting upon remains,
that his throne is made of death,

that it is so soft
he can’t rise from it; 

weeping for his monstrous 
comfort, he stays seated,

claiming that it’s better 
that a man like him

is the one
warming the seat

than some more monstrous bastard,
wouldn’t you agree?


That Good A Wolf

As dark a wolf
as can be held 
inside a human?
I am that wolf.

Glimpsed behind 
glassy eyes. Held
within a trembling,
strained core. Checked

by faith and pills,
yet this human
can still
be driven to 

distraction
by my howling,
may break 
another body

on its own 
without even
knowing that I
exist. I am

that good
at making my voice
sound like
a voice of reason

in the face of
what a human
thinks is a threat. 
I am that good.

I wake it before
sunrise and keep it
awake, tired in
darkness, lying

in its bed with
bad news whirling
above it like a 
playpen mobile.

I am that good
a wolf that it thinks
I am a good dog
there to make it

feel better. Make it
relax. Put it safely
to sleep and then
it thinks I keep watch.

It thinks I am
its pet. It does not 
see me as wolf,
surely not as 

Alpha. I am that
good a wolf, that dark
a presence, that loud
a call within that

this human 
does not realize
that it is my den,
not my master. 

Not even my prey,
unless need be.
It’s my home, this
human. Tight

and warm with
crazed blood, blood 
I crazed myself.
I am that good a wolf.


How I Will Become A Sun

All of a sudden
I understand
what has been happening to me
over these last months:

my hands and feet still work
as they always have but feel
stiff and needle-filled, oddly
dry when they are wet, 
chilled and dripping
though I stand on dry carpet,
so I have stopped trusting them;

whether I encounter 
once-beloved faces in person
or in newspapers lying
in the street, they all seem
gray and obsolete and 
I have stopped trusting them;

I lie often on the couch
ranting into cups of weak coffee
as days have become weeks
have become months;

I have stopped counting down
to birthdays, holidays, and
other special occasions,
letting them go unmarked as 
I have stopped trusting in them 
for anything more than 
betrayals of my hope
and memory.

Now I have squeezed all this
into my core and pressed it 
hard into a ball and felt it
go nuclear and spread its heat
into all my limbs.

What will follow
will be a blinding light
as I burst from within.
This is how I will 
become at last a sun. 

You shouldn’t stand
so close. In some faraway
world, some far-ahead time,
I may yet be hailed as a star
but right now, right here,
there will be only burning 
where I once stood;
that is one thing
in which I still trust.

 


Privileged

When I fell face first and bleeding within
from amphetamines at prep school,

all the school did was counsel me
and send me home for a week or so
on medical leave. That and my family’s begging
kept me on the college track.

When my buddies at the summer party 

dragged the cop out of his car
and began beating him with stones picked up
from the gravel pit, I was asleep,
drunk in my car, and missed the whole thing.
That and my family name kept me out of jail and the papers.

When I got caught smoking weed
in the Student Union building,

all the cop did was take
my bag and pipe and toss me out
and tell me to go home to the dorm. That
and the decade’s weariness with such crimes
kept me off the court docket.

When I told a cop off for an unjustified stop,
and he let me drive away.
When I tossed the barroom groper into the street
with a broken nose where he hit the sidewalk,
and a cop finished what I’d started
with a laugh.

When I realize how much I’ve gotten away with
and still get away with
compared to some, I am ashamed,

but not enough to do anything
but write this
and swear I’ll do something about it
eventually. That and my kind face

ought to be enough
to protect me. To absolve me.


A Late Blizzard

Daffodils came up 
before this late blizzard —

while shoveling the front walk
last night I uncovered

the edge of the cluster.
There was a robin, fat with cold,

chowing down on the old biscuits
I’d crumbled onto the front yard

yesterday. Today, sparrows
crowd the top of a small bush there

with the snow concealing 
whatever that robin might have left.

It’s hell out there this morning —
overnight everything went hard and icy

and there’s shoveling left
that I dread, but

robin and sparrows and
daffodils suggest

that dread
may not linger long.

 


The Agnostic

He admits to himself
that there are fleeting times when
he still believes
that up in the sky

there’s a bearded solution 
to all of this pain. He knows better,
of course, always has,
just like the cool kids do.
But knowing better
isn’t always enough to banish
certain things from his head
that took up residence long before
knowing meant more than believing.

What he thinks he knows
about such things now, he does not share.
All the cool kids would sneer.
All the cool kids know better than him —
by which he means they have a better process
for knowing. They’re better at knowing 
than he is. When they know something,
they know it. He, on the other hand,
keep gnawing at the knowing all the time,
trying to know better, trying to know more
and more certainly, and it never comes to him.

All this is to say that tonight, right now,
he’s aware of how alone this makes him.
How nothing is reliable. How no one
is in the same boat, at least not anyone
he could call and ask for help. There’s this
one important question he needs an answer to
and if there’s nothing beyond himself to provide
a safe space to ask it, he dares not say it out loud.
All the cool kids would laugh at him for feeling that way.
All the cool kids would turn away if he asked them,

so he doesn’t ask, and slowly pulls away.


James

Arrogant young prick
filled with unfortunate
rock lyrics
but also unfortunately
pretty as hell
Did high school as a god
Did college and law school
as a smaller god-king but
held court 
linked arm in arm to the whole
cosmology of
theft
Got away with war crimes
in peacetime
Got away with loot
from unreported robberies
for a living 

In mirrors
found his fan base

James

Aged out
Started balding but
still saw that self-created 
Jagger in his mirror
imaginary groupies
in every hotel bar
and new markets to conquer
in his sleep
right to the end
Died disbelieving
that he
Jack Flash in the flesh
could die at all

Another James right behind him to take his place
of course
They all believe they are the first
of course 
Cockmonsters of the walk
of course
and of course
they are as common as
garage bands made
by sticky boys in bedrooms
dreaming in the language
of stage lights
and ownership
who put down the guitars
at a certain age
took up MBAs and law books
Glocks and badges
pivot tables and coding
but none ever stop believing
they are owed 
a spotlight
their name
in lights
tonight only

JAMES


Trickster

My partner tells me
she came home 
to a coyote in the front yard
last night.

There is no need
to ask if she’s sure.
They’ve been around for years
and we’ve both seen them before — 
though never here, never this deep
into a dense city neighborhood.

Between us, we have now officially seen 
more coyotes here on this street
than we’ve seen guns
on anyone 
except cops,
gang signs
from anyone except on
Facebook,
and muggings except
on TV.

Remind me again 
how this city is a shit hole
and we’re all crazy for living here,
sneer again that it’s all going to hell.

That laughter you’ll hear
will not be the laughter of
the Trickster.


Boulders

Boulders within you. Fields,
forests of them looming,
covered in misted moss.

The rules for entering here:
duck them when they’re rolling,
climb them when they’re still.

You enter
when you learn

that an old friend unseen for years dies
and you learn that they lived 
close by
that whole time but you never saw 
each other
and did not cross paths

though many mutual friends
were held 
between you. 

Is that boulder moving
or stable?

Your family has forgotten your address
and doesn’t return 
your calls.
You are eating 
alone, sitting alone,
standing up

to pace the room alone.

How many boulders
are quivering now?

Beyond this field the mountains are rumbling.  
Landslides everywhere.

People scatter and scream;  others
shove prybars into ledges
and chortle as stones come down.
Your field is empty of such doings at the moment
and will likely stay that way as long as you
don’t draw attention to yourself
by stepping out to try and save someone.

Do you climb, do you duck?
Do you 
step out, or do you lie down
to be
crushed like a tossed can?

All the stones of the world
whether placed for worship
or worshipped where they were found
are questions. You are so much smaller 
than they are that it seems
there are no grounds from which to answer.

Then again,
you chose 
to enter the field in the first place.


A Drink With Death

I sat on the front porch with Death
and shared whisky. 

Death has a rep for terrible taste
in booze but all things considered,

I took the glass and choked it down.
Not horrible, not great.  Sometimes

mediocre is the worst option
but being the only one available makes it

the best option as well. 
Afterwards we shared a joint. Mine, of course;

Death can’t roll to save a soul
and my reputation for that skill is known in Heaven and Hell.

Death settled into the chair
and took a larger pull than was strictly 

polite, but arguing makes no sense
when you argue with Death. (Before this all

becomes “Princess Bride” parody, 
understand how serious this was

underneath the smiles and proffered drugs:
I was drinking and toking with Death

as if it all hadn’t been that for my whole life,
as if I didn’t know what might be at stake, though I did.)

Buzzed and worried,
I asked Death for a momentary reprieve — not for myself,

but for some random person. I wanted to tell myself
that I’d made some difference for someone

without regard for who they were. When Death
nodded and said it was done, I swallowed the drink

and the burning, dragged deep, fell asleep.
Someone didn’t die because I’d had that drink,

I told myself.  Such a wasted life as I’d had, 
I had to justify it at least a bit, even if I’d been in a fog

the whole time.  Even if I didn’t know 
that the saved person was worthy.  No one’s worthy

enough, really. It’s all a drunken plea
to stay alive for each of us. I didn’t do anything, 

really, except hope it would work to my credit
to have done something not for myself.  It’s what

every drink shared with Death is,
of course. A bargain. A deal, a commodified prayer

with indeterminate answers. Fire swallowed for heat,
chased with a hope for no scarring.