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.

Purple

browbeaten
people glad
to hand off
judgment to
others and
curl up under
them. sad little
mouth open
no head game
people with all
the time 
they’ve robbed
from the rest of
the planet. as it sinks
they’ll be seeking
hot dogs and
blast shields and
not in that order.
stoked to be
alone in charge of
wastelands with
the right flag flying
above. with a song
in their sores. with a
skip in their amputee
step. with a thought
and a prayer for
the descent into
finality as long as
jesus is with them
and there aren’t any
of those others
invited. wish there
were enough hours
in a time machine
to have done this
years ago. wish we were
in dixie, indebted
to the song of the
old south and the new
rest of the directions.
wish for a heavy stone
to cover all when it’s done
smoking in its crater.
wish for rain to clean it,
lightning to split it,
thunder to keep it 
awake till something better
takes its place. 


Podded

Oh, sure, it’s
a puddle, 

this place:

this watery little hole
in the mud called
my town, built at
a river’s headwaters
with a secret canal
rolling south from here;

sweet puddle
teeming with invisible life —
invisible to those 
who won’t look — 
to those who see nothing
but mud here; 

notice to people 
who want to stomp it dry
or pave it
or make it into a 
golf-course pond
or a scenic beach:

do that and
the old water,
the original water, 
will go

underground, sit there

in the dark, waiting.
Do that and we go
dormant till you forget
about us

podded and safe in the dust
on your shoes,

waiting. 


In Animal Space

I soften
in animal space.

Not much; I think
I am already softer than 
most people can see — 
and harder too, in ways
I do not let them see.

Whether in close quarters with
a young cat or an old dog,
or with joy-spasm ferrets
of any age; when I am

in the near space of something
large — a horse, or one perhaps far
from its natural home, a giraffe
or the odd country fair llama;

even when I come upon
(with what I admit may seem
a frightened side step)
a flash of snake or blur of
unknown wild mammal,

this righteous shell I wear
in human company 
shivers and dissolves a bit
in an inward shower
of glad tears

as I witness and bow
to the presence of life
without opinions, life beyond
right or wrong,
God-talk or God-war,
complexities
of love and hate;

in animal space
I soften,
become

more being than 
human being.


The Lake

After a lifetime
lived under the water
of a deep cold lake called

the art of 
finding new ways
to say old things
and sometimes even
of finding new things
to say

sometimes by
using old ways and
sometimes by
creating new ways

I have risen to
the surface
in daylight
looked
and searched
and shouted

and realized that

up here where
the people
who allegedly 
wanted me to say
things
were alleged to be
dying for my news
of old and new

the shores are empty
as they are all
living perfectly well
elsewhere

I tread water
in panic
certain to return
to my breathless depths
but whether I shall go
by diving 

or sinking

I do not yet know


The Seat

I’ve been seeking
the actual seat
of my Mescalero nature
within my body.

I believe I’ve found it, but
I will not tell you
where it is.

I will say
it does not pulse
or move much
when in place.

I cannot call it
a bone or bones
or a limb intact
or blown out into
components.

I will say
there’s a glow about it,
something
that is dimmer now
than it used to be
but in that dimming
it has become stronger
even as it has become 
harder to see, more
elusive.

I cannot call it entirely
pure, nor can I even suggest
there’s a ineffable quality
to it as a secret in the face 
of all the pains of the country
it must hide within.

I will say that playing twenty questions
won’t get you there.
I’d have to speak
a language I can’t use
without betraying it entirely
to explain it, even as it sits 
in plain teasing sight of everyone.

I cannot, cannot, cannot
be a party to its revelation
without saying 
this is not a part of me,
and that would be a lie.

I will say
there are stones in far deserts
that would call to it if they saw it
and it would answer. I’d have

to go along with that even if
it killed me.  I think that’s 

a clue to it: it would kill me
to let it be fully itself inside
the poison shell I hide it in
because that would kill it
swiftly and I
would completely follow.


Self-Care

Not summer yet
not for another month
yet too hot already for

all the pets
panting in the house so 
I replace their water constantly
and add ice to their bowls
and now and then check on
the new kitten for her tolerance
to this high temperature

She seems fine
so all I need is to watch her
and join her play and try to avoid
her minuscule claws and teeth 
as she learns her limits
as I have learned mine 

The other animals around me
have learned theirs more or less
with the big kitty sprawled near a window
and the ferrets in their cage sound asleep

As for my limits
I’m staring into a famous suicide 
while thinking of slow-motion genocide
and a billionaire imploding dangerously
from the weight of his wealth and utter Whiteness
and his ego and his sleep-starved outbursts

none of which trouble the kitten
or the cat or the ferrets
at all 
for them it’s all about the heat
and me being simply present at the right time

while I’ve got to sit here worrying
that I am not fighting hard enough
in the slow roll of this clumsy war
by writing and raging and staring
into famous suicide

that feels like a possibility except

the kitten wants to play and 
who am I to say no
to such a hopeful thing
as her face staring up at me
while she waits for the future


Grief Song

Grief:

music
you cannot turn down,

backdrop 
of daily performance,

its volume surging
now and then but

always there, mostly
unwelcome

except
when it aligns with 

a joyful or loving moment
recalled

and it becomes,
for a second,

a dance. One day,

you will find that
without notice

it will shift from
mostly dirge

to occasional bebop to
a bright skirling

festival song
ringing far off

in a soft 
shadow out in

your outskirts,
a place

you no longer fear
but seldom go.


The Service

Putting out trash for pickup;
as much of a ritual
as anything
from my churched days.

More so, in fact.
I was never as devout then 
as I am now with careful separation
of recyclables, compostables; with
the regular observance of
timed placement of offerings
at the curb. 

It is a measure of 
the times we are in 
that this mundanity
feels like a bulwark 
against apocalypse.
In this is the hope

that I am doing something,
that this will matter beyond
not having the house smell
of whatever’s in the single bag
and half-crate of plastic and paper
I put out there. Our remnants, our losses,
our surrendered bits and pieces
given up to an effort
to green the world; they
look a little like a future 
if you squint.

When I am back inside
and see the news, 

I tell myself
that might have to hold me
till next week.  


Poppies

In my neighbor’s yard,
red poppies.

Scrape a bagel, they say, and you
can grow some flowers.

On the next table over in the cafe,
bagels dotted with black.

Eat a bagel, they say, and you may
fail a test for opioids.

You can’t escape
the prevalence 

of such things.
My little hometown

has both a bagel place and
overdoses. They sell

cream cheese and Narcan
in the strip mall. 

In Afghanistan, 
there are fields of poppies.

In the US,
there are fields of dead

killed around and by
the poppies.

Read the fine print.
You’ll see

I’m right. Policy 
and breakfast and 

poppies, lovely
and filling and deadly,

side by side to greet us
in the morning light. We need

so many drugs
to get through to the next day.


Mean Streak

Got a mean streak
when it comes to
self-preservation.

I approach hazards
with a megaphone
and holler, “Yes, Yes,” 
then plunge ahead.

No hesitation,
no measured response;
just drop everything
and jump from
every edge 
that presents itself.

No matter 
how long the fall,
no matter how sharp 
the rocks at the bottom.

No matter who’s watching.
Someone has to be watching;
if no one’s watching, 
how will I know
the perfectly wrong thing to do
when every foolish act
has always felt so much like 
worship?

Seek wisdom in my wreckage.
What brilliance may be found
in the twisted mess of my life
as if this crumpled random
were as planned as any sculpture.
The splatter 
at the bottom of the cliff
can be read
as Rorschach for now 
or as divination, a painting
of the future;

I give myself to that oracular mission.

As for those times when
I play an ordinary man
who puts on pants in the morning,
goes to work, comes home
tired, secure in 
his living?

I’ve got a mean streak
when it comes to him.
He’s adequately
successful and not at all
troubling,

poor thing. Messing him up
feels like a service, 
like art, even as he passes,

screaming, into the void.


Surrendering Miracle

At the center of
the airburst that
has all but cleaned me
of most of
my memories

is the vision of 
a white bison calf
on a Wisconsin farm

a white calf
named Miracle
claimed as sacred
by some

I recall how She came
to the pasture fence
and stared at me
when I spoke to Her

and how an old man
tending to cars parked
in the spring mud of 
the farm
asked me if She
had spoken to me

and I said yes 

I did not know for certain
until now
that She 
did not

All these years since
I have imagined a message
that was not there
for me

Now 
emptied by fire
I know I was not
blessed by Her

Things have become
so dull with

no Miracle left in me

I fall to earth

An ash
white as 
pale horse or
ghost folly

This has been
a life of
legendary 
mistakes

A life centered on 
one in particular

A life of mistaken belief
in my own 
mission

All ash now
Silent drift
to muddy ground


Horror Song

I have lately dreamed the words
“stuck pig”
so often they’ve turned
into music
I cannot stop humming
asleep or awake

Accompanied by
triangle or tympani
and now
and then
the sound of stones
rolling down a hill
into a river from
their former spots
in a castle wall

If this is a metaphor
what does it mean 
that on a recent night
I received
the second verse
in a new dream
of fields and flowers

and the words were

“bleeding out
means
the meat will be 
sweeter”


Dyingly

Some children in a store laugh
at my “Standing Rock” 
T-shirt, tell me I’m stupid
for wearing it after I explain it.

Adults I’ve known for years
forget who I am, forget
how I identify, forget
it matters to me that they remember.

Other adults insist
I’m not what I am, am not
what I know I am, am not
getting it, am lying about it.

I’ve never denied that what I am
is not easy for me to be:
I know damn well
where I seem to fit on first glance

and what I get from that;
I know damn well what I grew up with
doesn’t show on first glance;
I know I’m supposed to have both sides

all together now. I don’t.
I should have relaxed into my mix
a long time ago, and instead
all I am is dyingly angry — “all I am,” 

as if I exist with any completion
outside of my skull at all.
I should fall from a bridge
before you all, crack it open.

You’d call me crazy and peer
into the gray and red and meat and
jelly of my brain and say
there’s nothing there to build on

and eventually let me go. Some of you
will call me the crazy old Indian then,
some the crazy old White guy,
and so the cycle will continue.

In death,
by reputation, I will be 
as divided
as I am in life

and damn those children
who laugh and laugh,
who become adults
with no clue,

who end up happy
and whole in ignorance
they likely never had to choose,
a ignorance I wish

I had myself been born with.


About Them

Who are they,
the ones you call “them?”
It’s hard to explain, other than

they decide, not you — unless
you find yourself on the side
of consensus. 

Some jump back and forth,
into and out of it. Some join
and never look back,

some are born there, some
look up one day and find
somehow they have become “them.”

How immense they are
depends on how small you feel
yourself to be.

If there is a
visible horizon before you,
they are the vanishing point.

Your descriptions of them
have a plasticity of form,
though rarely of intent.

Their mouths
are bound over
to the service of ghosts.

In their hair the ashes 
of torches, pyres, stakes
in piles of pitch-soaked wood.

They may choose to soothe
if you agree, snip and snide
if you are mildly out of line,

rap knuckles and slap down
if you are more recalcitrant,
beat and slay if they see the need,

or so they want you
to believe. They are
avatars of what

you are supposed
to believe and the forms
must be preserved

or else there’s nothing
to be preserved and
things fall apart and

even if that is something
to be desired
it does not happen

without pain and
the circle remains
unbroken as long as 

they hold you close;
as long as you let them
hold you. 


Resistance Poem

It is not that the ocean
itself is evil: far from it.
The ocean out there

makes us here on shore
what we are; indeed
there would be

no shore without it,
but now and then
great storms rise and

send death tides,
death waves,
death.

To disrupt
such deadly waves
coming ashore we must

wade out,
become stone, 
stand still

before it, understanding
that we cannot
stand forever

but while
we do, we
break it

at least a little,
more if we
go in numbers,

more still
if we do not try
to block it

completely
but instead seek
ways to divide

its energy, 
to cause it to dis-integrate
in that narrowest

sense of the word.
It will seem
impossible

because in
any permanent sense
it is, waves

of Evil
will come again
to our shores

as the very nature
of such Evil
is that

it works
through waves, it works
through repetition

and wearing down,
through broad strikes
across wide beaches

and deep harbors, 
it sweeps and swamps
and erodes and 

those who stand
against it must
always stand against it,

for life, for all
the time we have,
and also must teach

the ones who come after
how necessary is
the stand, the breaking

of those waves, the willingness
to break ourselves as a way 
to hold the shore in safety.