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.

St. Vincent

“…there is a certain amount of writing that can only come from a monastic space.”  — St.Vincent

 

Alone. A lost tree
seeking a forest — thing about
trees, though, is they

can’t move so is it lost at all
if it’s living where it’s 
been planted? Perhaps

solitary is a better word
if it is a happy tree. It stands by
itself, seeking best words.

All of its time caught in a web
of slow growth and searching.
Speaking of best words,

happy doesn’t enter into
a lone tree’s vocabulary. 
Say instead it’s self-contained

and always fixed upon 
what it grows from: it grows
from matins through lauds

to vespers, morning prayer
through to night prayer. Speaking of
St. Vincent, musician and not

saint, it is always possible that prayer
may become song. Speaking 
as man and not tree, I refuse

to see difference between those
words. Speaking as a solitary,
i am not ashamed to grow bark,

resolve to be rooted,
settled without patronage.
St. Vincent non-musician was

patron saint of poor people and vintners.
Never an extra word for poets. I am
poor and I am drunk on my assets:

I speak of course of words, prayers, 
songs, monastery walls,
vows, oak, bark, and bite.

Advertisements

The Depths

Take the Grand Canyon, for instance.
It swallows your head. It breaks
your dimensions apart. If
you’re on the edge of it and
you toss a stone here
it may travel over a mile 
before it stops. Where else can you 
say such a thing —

except perhaps when 
anchored above the Mariana Trench?
A stone dropped over a ship’s rail there
can travel seven miles straight down
with no effort on your part
other than whatever it took
to get there in the first place.

Get to the right place 

and if you just let go,
you can watch it fall away
as far as it’s possible
for a burden to go.

Skip climbing.  Everest
is only five miles high and
it’s not strictly, purely vertical.
You feel stuck? You feel low?
Here’s the totality of what I know:

the depths can offer 
all you need. If you’re
already there, let go.


A Closed Eye

A closed eye, shut tight
by choice, fallen
comatose or dead,
having willed itself blind
or having shifted suddenly,
involuntarily, into
darkness.

A hand gone limp,
crossed over another like it,
resting on a chest
which may or may not 
be moving up, down,
slightly.

A body, small enough
to be overlooked if one
were to walk by in a hurry,
lying covered in dry leaves
by a main street but in a stretch
where there are few homes
and few who walk by.

How I know
this is my hometown:

I reach gingerly down
to the body and touch it,
almost tenderly, and when it
stirs and raises its head,
I look closely into the face
and say,

“Hey. Joe. Getting 
cold out here. Go home.
You need a ride or something?
I can go get the car.”

How, when this improbably
happens for the second time in 
my life, I know I have come
very far from home:

I reach into my pocket
and pull a phone from it
and call the emergency number
and stand to one side
and wait there for someone to come
and raise the body up and 
see how the person is,

and never get close enough
to see for myself, 
to touch, to feel.


Flaws And Mistakes

My flaws
are built in.
They refract —
might distort
what’s inside
but also might
throw rainbows
at your eyes.

My mistakes,
add-ons all,

cover the facets.
They obscure, they
block. They will
make you think
of shadows and
you will start thinking
of what may lurk
in here.  

I’ve had 
the flaws
from inception.
You will
have to get 
used to them.
The mistakes 
I took on, 
were all my own.

Some of them
might wipe off. 
Others left hard stains.
I’m sorry for those.

I promise you
in the right light
I’m still brilliant,
though I admit it’s often
too hard to look
for that, even for me,

so if you turn away
I will be
at peace with you
and your choice,

though I will never
get there myself.


The Leonard Cohen Poem

When I lose myself
in sleep while writing
I will sometimes
find upon waking one odd line
in an otherwise perfectly
coherent paragraph or stanza.

I call those the cracks
where the light leaks in,
a concept I admit I borrowed
from that Canadian poet
I never liked, the one
I feel guilty for not liking, the one
everyone loved right up
until he died and then
they loved him even more. Anyway,

upon waking I’ll sometimes find
a single line, a crack full of light
in the middle of work I’d finished
in a fever, trying to get my point across
before darkness fell, and I’ll look at it
and scratch my head and chin
and try to decide if the light’s
from a window or a fire, and if

it’s from a window I then decide
if I should close it and keep that light
out of this poem, then decide if I should see
if the line belongs to another poem
and go to the room where that one lives
and make the line comfortable there instead;

and if it is from a fire I then decide
if I must extinguish it, bask
in its warmth and try to contain it
within this poem, or use it to burn
the whole poem down so I can sift its ashes
for something on which to build anew
that starts with that line as a cornerstone.

Whatever I do, before deciding
I stare at the crack and the light inside
and the older I get the more I feel
like a baffled king composing, one who knows
not everyone will love what I do
or how I rule, but the light’s still there
and the line’s been let in, and
regardless of what I do with that line
it’s holding me hostage until I choose.

Someday I too will die, and some
will remember me fondly and some 
will shrug me off and say
I never made much sense to them
in the first place, the way I feel

about that croaking Canadian
who I must admit had some 
damn good lines that made me
sit up now and then and put
my distaste on hold and say
Hallelujah, that light’s
indeed glorious.


All Comfort Is Promised

All comfort is always promised
to the boy with the broken mouth
who himself was fractured in the street
by shadowy thugs in service to the rule
of order imposed in place of righteousness.

All comfort is always promised
to the girl coerced, the woman coerced, to those
cajoled and coaxed, captured and crushed
by some masked in privilege and others
who simply took what they wanted and left behind 
whatever they did not.

All comfort is always promised
to those displaced now housed
far from home, to those
who’ve made the best of it and those
who’ve made nothing from it,
all of whom nevertheless dream
the same homegoing dream every night.

All comfort is promised
in every book of every scripture
to every one of these oppressed and violated,
every one of those seeking refuge
from acts driven in some cases
by the double dealing tongues of those
who hold those same scriptures up
to ward off the guilt of having led us all here —

when willl it begin?  When will the night be 
safe, the coerced free to walk away,
the unhomed free to rehome themselves?
When will the last violation be redressed? 
When will promises be kept at last? 
When will 
all this promised comfort 
descend like a blanket
upon all who need it,

and when will we
have learned enough ourseves
not to question
anyone who in fact
truly needs it when they ask?


In A Shithole Country

words stay with you.

In your sleep you
can still hear them,
even though you
don’t believe them,
not really.

But then again,

it takes one to know one, or so
it is said and
according to him, 

in his country
the President’s
official house is
a dump and the neighbors
ship rapists and
drugs right over
the line to infest
the clean bathrooms of
the homeland — and

don’t forget: his own
shithole, back home
in his palace, is alleged
to be plated in gold,

is kept very, very clean.

Bullion
in a bowl
just smells right, right?

Meanwhile,
in Norway,
no one’s getting up
to pack.

A shithole’s in
the eye of
the beholder, it seems,

and sometimes found
most easily
under

an ass. 


Remembered

Remember that
crucifixion only became theology 
with time.  Once it was
just somebody’s job and 
somebody else’s brutal
entertainment; some
avoided such spectacle as that
due to delicacy and others ran
like hell to avoid being the targets
of the ones with the hammers and 
the nails.  Remember that
it only became holy
with time; some say it took
as little as three days,
others say it’s still not all the way
there. Remember
that it was cleaned up and
that you’ll really never know
what it was really like; remember that
the next time you’re looking up at
the bare cross on the wall of your church.
Remember that there are some places in the world
where on Good Friday
some try to replicate it,
dragging crosses 
through the dirt streets,
hanging themselves bloody
to bring it home again; remember
how you knew of them, the penitentes,
once upon a time and had forgotten them
till now? Remember how it sobered you
up to learn of them? To learn of people
who preferred to recall it was once
routine and mundane and bloody
and vile, and maybe it should have stayed
that way; if it one day makes you uneasy
in church, if it pulls you down to your knees
in sick wonder, maybe that’s what you get
for forgetting that it did not start
in purity and that they only capitalized it
once they made it into capital.


The Arts As A Profession

On the clock
for a whole day
with no rest. 

There are people
who consider that
a hardship, an 

inequity to be
redressed at some point
with a dramatic exit

and all the fireworks
they can muster. 
I am not one of those —

I welcome this 
round the clock job,
all week gig, all year

career. Any stoppage
or break feels like a death
or at best a sickness.

I did not sign up
for this life but I take it
as my reward for

something I did in
a previous one where
I was stunted and kept

from this. This is no
job, after all. This is
an identity; why would I want

to break that? 
I turn back to it.  Go 
away. There’s work to be done

and I would prefer
to be alone, wearing myself
to a nub, as I do it.

Like most others 
who are called to this,
I’ll rest when I’ve 

died. I’ll take my break
on my back, or slumped in
a chair, better yet, head fallen

onto the desk. They’ll
pull me up and wheel me out
and someone else

will sit right down
and go, go, go
all hours until they fail.

It’s how it’s done.  Once
you’re in you stay in
till you drop

right beside
your last word
and someone new steps up.


Button

There’s a button
we are supposed to press right now
that doesn’t seem to be working.
I think we’re supposed
to hear something
and I don’t know about you
but I can’t hear a thing.
I expected a buzz or a click
or music.  A flashing light
or a change in temperature.
A door to swing open or 
one to shut tight. This is 
disconcerting. This has me
extremely worried.

Let’s try something. I will
mash down on this button
again and again
until it stays stuck
in the down position.

Now what
are we going to do? Tell me
if you can that there’s an operation
happening elsewhere beyond
the senses which is proceeding
as it’s supposed to despite 
the apparent failure of that
which is designed to initialize
a process or complete one
depending on when it is pushed.

I find it hard to imagine
that there’s something so broken
it cannot be revived. I’ll buy it
if you tell me otherwise
because otherwise we just wasted
a lot of time and energy 
banging on a button that no longer
moves when pressed
and if that’s the case 
I will no longer move
when pressed. I will
stay crushed down. I will
pretend I am operational.
I will not be anyone’s button
any more.  One of a field
of buttons. One button on
a panel full of useless buttons.
Another country not heard from.


Dead Photos In A Red Wallet

I obsess these days 
about how often now I forget
important names,
places: do not recall
any taste of her
skin during sex, or
how long we held it
together, or what we called
our firstborn. My wallet’s
a red, dumb tongueful of
photos I don’t recognize.
My house is a delightful,
frustrating maze becoming
new to me daily after 
thirty years here. I’ve got to
get out, I guess; I must,
I presume.

I don’t think
this is dementia. To be honest
I believe it’s a case of
having worn certain ruts
in my head so deeply that
I’m down to bone and there’s
nothing soft to get hold of.

I think
if I could get outside of this
I’d learn again. I’d forget
all these scattered bits. Start
new paths, be different, then 
meet my old love again. She
might not know me anymore
either. 

We could go over
these photos together. Trace
faces with our worn-down fingers,
one at a time, until one of us
shouted out a name. Maybe it 
would be right, maybe not, but we’d
be happy to have anything
feel correct enough for us to grasp,
a straw against our shared twilight.


The Rest Of The Way

Remind me of how
a Toblerone tastes —
it’s been so long since I
was able to have one.

Remind me what silk feels
like when drawn across the hand,
how feeling that elevates the mind
in blessed ways.

Remind me of my memory,
of senses long denied
expression and stimulation.
Is our best world still out there?

Somehow I’ve felt locked away
from it all. I feel nothing much
other than that. Those pleasures
I once held have slipped from me

and I’d love to gather them to me
again so: remind me. Remind me
of luxury and indulgence. Get me halfway
back to myself. 
Let’s see

if memory, once roused,
can open its arms enough
to carry me 
the rest of the way.


Relentless

On a mission to take down
the pain in my leg
took a pill and a drink and one more pill
and sat my ass down
to take off the weight

On a mission to maybe
relax for a moment 
took a drag and a sip and a drag and a sip
and dozed right off
for a whole ten minutes

Tried to wake up for good
with remote in hand
flipped around checked for movies thought about finding
a music channel
but that didn’t last

When I woke up again
a little bit later 
stretched my neck and my shoulder and damned if the leg
wasn’t still a little tender
after all I’d done

On a mission of comfort
for pain and fatigue
Pain of body and soul and fatigue from fighting them both
it’s a daily routine
and it’s Friday again

so it’s been a whole week
of pills and sipping
smoking and sitting and running the word “relentless”
over my tongue and teeth
till it’s all I can taste


Tough

Your second hand rugs,
worn thin where someone paced
before you got them.

You windows that get washed
once a year. Your car in need,
always, of something out of reach.

Clothes that never
measure up to how
they were pictured before purchase

because they were pictured
as solutions or answered prayers,
when they were in fact just clothes.

The few things of substance
you cling to: an heirloom cup or two,
one sturdy chair, good pots and pans

collected piecemeal
at Goodwill, at the Sally store,
at the perpetual yard sale

two blocks over, every Sunday
morning; the same place you bought
your warmest overcoat.

You do your best though
every bill feels like
a wound and lately

blood has been seeping through
what you’ve dressed them with.
You stay home, away from friends,

from your past life,
as much from fear
of being seen this way

as because you can’t afford
to step too far off the path
you need to walk just

to stay here, to keep
the little bit of an address
you’ve got. Instead you tell yourself

those rugs aren’t going 
to wear themselves transparent.
You’ve got all night and all day,

all of tomorrow and next week. You’re tough.
Plenty to keep you busy. Plenty
left to be ground down.


No Religion, No Scripture, No Prophet

1.
How is it that so many of us
can stare into the same abyss
and see different things?  

There’s nothing there
when I look into it. One sees
the authority of star charts

while someone else sees
a bloodstained cross of gold
and another, a rune hanging

in the sky above a gigantic tree.
It seems the abyss is a master
of sleight of hand. Magic

runs deep in there, as deep
as the pit itself perhaps. That’s 
why we have mystics, I suppose:

there are always people
who will try to explain
how the trick was done.  

2.
If I am to be honest
I don’t really see nothing
when I stand before it.

There’s something there,
certainly.  I just can’t tell
what it is and I’m too old

to waste any more time
on being certain before
leaping in.  If it’s a raven,

I’ll find out when I strike it
as I fall.  If it’s a coyote
let it take me in its jaws.

If it’s something I can’t name
I’ll fall into it or fly by it
and that will be that.

3.
When I peer into the abyss
the one thing I can say for sure
is that it’s not me in there.

Whatever is there
is not staring back
at all. Not so far.

It seems unconcerned
that I’m even here.
It seems to go about being

the abyss regardless
of anyone’s gaze. No use
wringing your hands about this,

it seems to be saying.
It’s not yours. Maybe 
you’ll understand someday,

but don’t give up your sense
one day sooner than you need to
thinking it will help:

no one 
has ever
gotten it right.