Category Archives: uncategorized

Getting Past It

Three fractured heads 
in the crotch of a tree.

Dog-torn infant arms
strewn in a ditch.

On a dirt road, 
dark wet sand.

New genocide and massacre
glimpsed on a screen.

You can’t look away
even as you say

“it can’t happen here.”
It has happened here.

Here is here because
it has happened here.

You didn’t do it. You had
nothing to do with it.

But you are here, in part,
because it has happened here.

This is why 
you can’t look away

even as you say
“it can’t happen here.”

You want to know
what it looks like,

want to toughen up.
It can’t happen here

but who knows where
it will happen tomorrow

and if you are there
by chance or design

your today could be gone
when your tomorrow gets here.

You keep an eye
on the screen

and make plans and promises
about what you will

and will not do 
if it happens

where you are:
how you will stay upright

if the road runs slippery
with blood, how you will avoid

tripping over flesh
on your walkway, how you will

get past it. How you
will thrive in the aftermath,

how you will raise a family
there.

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Worms

The earth in the front yard’s 
worm-broken as always
after the rain.

So many castings on the surface,
thick red threads squirming
on the sidewalk.

I still don’t understand 
how anything lives here,
myself least of all,

but I do, and they do.
They seem in fact
to thrive somehow.

I don’t, not at all.
I’d go so far as to say
I’m bad at living; 

worse at it than
these worms are,
anyway.

It’s odd
how it happens
that one can end up

envying worms. I hope
some nice ones eat me
when I die. I know 

it’s not worms like these
I should be counting on
for that. These worms

aren’t the right type.
These worms look like
survivors, like they’d know

that you are what you eat.
That’s a good enough reason
for them to avoid me.

It’s raining, I’m waiting to die,
worms have come up from the wet
all over the yard, and I’m watching 

them from the window. If you need
anything beyond this
to understand me, be like the worms:

steer clear.

 

 


Dawn

I said I shouldn’t have to prove
my exceptional nature and skills
to be valued, that I am human

should be enough to make you want 
to care about me and not think of me as
a heap of dirt to be danced on 
like some grave. 

Then I looked around:
when has being human 
ever been enough?

I said that everyone came here
from somewhere except for those of us
whose folks were here already.

Then someone reminded me
of the Bering Straits and someone else
pointed at carved heads and said Africa
and another one laughed
and said Irish monks and let us not forget
the sky people from Sirius or 
Alpha Centauri,

and I realized
how much people
love the colonial buffet.

I said something about
a living wage and
not having to fear that
a broken turn signal 
might get you beaten
or jailed or deported or
killed. I said something

about people who had no choice
about coming here, about people
born here with no voice to be heard
here, about people burning here
and drowning here.

Then it struck me
that no one could hear a thing I’d said
over the sound of locks being locked
and deadbolts being thrown, guns
being cocked and hands being clapped
over ears and eyes.

I stopped talking long enough
to consider the possibility
that perhaps they heard me just fine
and that was why they locked
and loaded and shut themselves away.

I stopped talking.
I looked up.

There was
dawn in the air. It was lonely
but it was new. It might not have lasted
long but it was clean. It might
still have been night
but that hint of sun

felt sacred.


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.


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.


My Gods

You come at me
and come at me
as you have for years

with gods
you brought 
with you
from your land

and tell me I am 
cursed, doomed, 
blighted.

You cast spells,
toss masses;

lay ghosts under my feet;

offend with talk of
how wrong-soaked
my soul is.

You brandish
the things you stole from us
as if they were your own
wands or censers or
crucifixes,
as if your hands
upon them are
enough
to use their power?

Listen to me,
missionary;
listen to me,
pagan colonizer;
listen to me,
plastic shaman,
thief,
dog 

so unleashed from 
your own stone and sea
that you cannot feel 
how lost you are:

you are
on ground where
my gods live and 
no matter how far yours
traveled to get here,
they’re still

tourists,  they’re surely
tired, 

they certainly
do not
belong;

I have gods
at my back
rested and waiting and
grounded deeply
in this earth.

Nothing of yours
has ever
shaken them.

Nothing
ever will.


Life’s A Beach

In the morning I wake up
dripping and soaked in
politics or what
some of you call
politics when I think
politics is a code word for
the ocean 

I live in and I can’t
get out and don’t really
care to try.

I know a lot of people
who drown in it. I know a lot
who tread water
and even some
who thrive and race here.

Some of you think I’m weird for staying here.
You say hey, life’s a beach. Get out of the water
when you can. That ocean
is fun to
look at now and then
but all in all you say gimme

sand and land and sun and fun.
Time to turn, you won’t burn.

You call me out for staying
out here. You call me
obsessed or fussy with it.

The only reason you have a beach
to get out onto at all
is because of this ocean that
would just 
swallow you in an impersonal
flash or splash
while you lie there.

I stay dripping with politics because
having been on the beach in the past
when a wave broke over me

I prefer to feel
what’s around

as it’s happening
and not be caught
by surprise.


Will

My people 
I tell you 

I am a broken bottle
and though I can hold

neither wine for celebration
nor water for survival

what is left of me
is yours to use

as decoration
(let my shards

be shattered further
into mosaic bits) or

as defense (let my ends
be cemented into walls

to serve as teeth) or even
for offense (take me in hand and

swing me
as needed) 

Though I hope
I will be art for you

I will not flinch from being
fang or blade

for you my people
who will have need of all 

of what little I can offer now
in these latter days


Patreon page added

I’ve added a page to the main menu here.  

If you look at the header on the blog site, you’ll find a page labeled “Patreon” which has information and a link to my monthly crowdfunding effort.  

Again, I’ll never make the blog anything other than free to all.  If you’d like to join the community of folks who’ve gotten involved in funding any of my other work, the information to do that is on that page.

Thanks in advance.  

A direct link to the page itself:

http://www.patreon.com/TonyBrown


Big Step

Hi, folks…

I’ve made a decision and wanted to let you all in on it.

In an effort to make life a little easier, I’ve gone ahead and created a Patreon site.  Patreon is a site that allows artists to develop a monthly income to help them create freely with less financial pressure.

You don’t need to sign up; the Dark Matter blog is going to remain free regardless of whether this works out or not. I’m merely presenting the link to you if you’re interested.

All the background and information is here.

Thanks in advance,

Tony


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


A Performance Note: the Rip-Up Reading

About 17 years ago (as near as I can recall — sometime in late 1999 or early 2000) I did a reading in Worcester, MA that started as a kind of artistic challenge and turned into something much larger, at least for me.

The concept: do a feature that consisted of a set of poems that would only be read once and never again. Seemed simple enough at first, But as I worked on the set for that first feature, I began to learn something about the nature of what we do as poets and the idea began to expand.

It became something I call a “rip up reading.” After it was done, I didn’t think I’d ever do it again.
 
In 2009, I did it again in Manchester, NH.
 
Last night I did it for what I am pretty sure will be the last time ever in Portland, ME, for a gathering of storytellers.

 
The Format:

1.
Keep the nature of the show secret. Don’t share the poems with anyone, or the nature of the show itself with anyone but the host prior to the show. Nothing online, no workshopping — nothing. 

2.
Write the set. This takes a while, because if you’re going to do this, you need to have poems that you have a significant amount of blood and investment in — they have to be at least good, and hopefully it’s the best work you’re capable of. In all three cases, it was a set of eight or nine poems. Already, I don’t recall for sure. Age has made the porosity of my memory worse than ever; usually a curse, in this case a blessing.

3.
Before the feature, print one copy of the set, then wipe out the file for it on the computer, so there’s only one copy of the poems in existence.
 
4.
At the start of the show, ask for everyone in attendance to shut off anything they can use to make a record of the performance. Cameras, cell phones, video, etc. Gotta keep up with the technology. There was some sketching last night, but I let that slide; no good reason, just felt somehow OK.

5.
Ask for an audience member to volunteer to help you during the set. Don’t explain why, but assure them they don’t have to do anything on stage; they just need to sit up front.

6.
Explain what you’re doing (I’ll explain the rationale below in more detail) — that you’ll be reading a set of poems that no one’s ever seen or heard before, or will again. The set last night addressed the political moment — but more in a sense of the spiritual aspects of the moment. I’ll not say more than that about it.
 
 
In all three cases, I opened and closed the set with poems that didn’t fit the bill, as a way of ritually easing in and out of the actual rip-up set. Last night I opened with the poem “Our Dragon” that appears in the “Trumped” anthology, and closed with “Radioactive Artist,” an oldie that just seemed to fit (and felt timely as it references the Hanford Reservation, site of the recent nuclear waste accident).
 
7.
Explain the volunteer’s role — that as each poem is completed, the volunteer rips the copy of the poem into tiny pieces and puts them into some receptacle — a bag or an envelope (last night, a Ziploc bag) . At the end of the night, the host gets the ripped up copies to do anything with that they want — as long as they don’t reassemble the poems.
 
8. 
Explain, very briefly, the rationale as given below. I use an Ani Difranco quote to help make the point, from “Fuel:” “People / used to make records / as in the record / of an event / The event / of people / making music /in a room.” It’s a way of introducing the idea that the event is precious, the moment is precious. I don’t go into huge detail.

9.
Do the feature.

10.
Last night, we actually did a Q & A with the audience afterward. Never did that before. Most of what we discussed is covered below.

11.
Collapse internally if you’ve done it right.

The Rationale:

The rationale behind the rip up reading is two fold.
 
First and foremost, it is to create a heightened, ritualized sense of the fundamentally ephemeral nature of a live performance. (Hence, the secrecy beforehand and the volunteer, the no recording, etc. It’s a ritual process and requires ritual boundaries to work.) To emphasize that these moments between poet and audience are irreproducible, and that no amount of chapbook reading, video viewing, or listening to a recording can truly recapture what happens in the moment of the night, and that we need to seize the moment and give it our attention — and that goes for performer and audience.

Second, it’s to illustrate the importance of being willing to bring it all out there and then leave it all onstage — both for poet and audience. By its very nature, if you want to do this right, you have to deliver a set of work that has blood in it — personal, revealing work that stretches your own boundaries as writer and as performer. If you’re going to do this, you can’t bring weak shit up there to be destroyed. It has to hurt you to see it go, or letting it go means nothing at all. The audience needs to recognize that hurt in you without pitying you — a fine line to walk.

Why did I include poems that weren’t destined to be ripped up in both cases? To create an entrance out of and an exit back into the “real world” outside the ritualized space of the night. To give people something to hang onto in a more tangible way than just in their heads. Touchstones. Beyond that…let’s just say it seemed like the right way to do it. Not everything is subject to rational thought.
 
Reactions:

The introduction and explanation garnered gasps and shock.

You could hear a pin drop in the room as each poem began. No chatter during the poems. Total attention to the moment.

Afterwards…gratitude. That was the big one. Anger, too…in some cases. Not a bad anger, just a “oh, God, don’t rip that one up!!!!” now and again. But it wasn’t a deep anger, more a frustration at having the pieces disappear into the ether.

A audience of storytellers, versus poets, lent a different flavor to it (part of why I did it there). Less anger, more appreciation. Hard to explain. (Also, a much older audience than ever before — average age was probably closer to 60; the other two readings were the usual, younger poetry crowd.)

And then it was done. And now, we all move on…

Thanks to all who participated in this.

I am deeply, deeply grateful to the Maine Organization Of Storytelling Enthusiasts (MOOSE) for asking me into their space to do this.


Your Alien Head

You woke up
this morning
blurting:

what if the head
on my shoulders

isn’t my own?

You only began
to suspect this yesterday
when a crude bias 
fell off your tongue
out into the air
where all could see

and you stuttered out
what “the aliens” 
told you to say:

oh, my God,
there is no way; 

that is so unlike me,
I’m so embarrassed,
you people know me,
you know 
I’m not like that;

sorry, sorry, sorry.

Today you finally decide
it’s not your head.
It wasn’t you talking at all.

That’s the only explanation.
It wasn’t you.

When you think about it,
you can’t recall growing your head

from a stub into
the glorious but troubling orb
it is today, can you? 
It might just be 
foreign to you. It might be
alien country. 

Maybe your thoughts are
an invasion flock,
a many-tongued
horde behind your face,
and you’ve grown up never having
a clue about its origin…

it would explain so much,
excuse so much…

and after all,
it’s what’s in your heart
that counts.


A note from the poet

I’ve said this before, but I will say it again.

Over the years, I’ve been very open about having bipolar disorder (bipolar II, for you detail-oriented folks). I’ve been treated, had therapy for years, been on meds, spent a little time in-patient, etc.  I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was a kid, and have made a few attempts. I’m open about it, and I do on occasion deal with the subject in my poetry.  It’s a chronic condition that has played a large part in defining the parameters of my life and my world view.

However, taking any poem I write as a sign that I am at that moment in some kind of distress is really, really not conducive to understanding how I work, and is in fact pretty reductive of my work as an artist.  Something you can be sure of is that if I’m writing, I’m NOT suicidal, and I’m likely not at that moment in any self-destructive mood at all.  

I can’t write when I’m ill.  I may write about illness, but it’s ALWAYS in retrospect, or to illuminate something I may have thought about when I was in the middle of an episode.  I try to be upfront about how scary that sometimes is, and I hope that now and then someone in a similar state looks at my work and sees someone who “gets it,” but I do not write as therapy for myself.  I don’t write when I’m that disordered.

If you typically read poems thinking of them as autobiography, as impassioned outbursts of a tortured or ecstatic soul, I’m asking you to suspend that mindset when you read mine.  I’m a professional creative writer who’s been at this for close to 50 years now. I don’t write when inspiration hits or when I need to “let it out.”  

Last point:  I am not a Christian.  I don’t share the source of my personal spiritual belief system with the public; maybe you can discern something of it here and there in the poems, but I don’t make my personal practices and beliefs explicit. 

While I appreciate and accept with genuine humility your blessings and prayers when they are offered — gifts are gifts and always welcome — I am uncomfortable with the occasional bit of specifically Christian proselytizing and Bible-based advice that I sometimes receive, especially when people perceive me to be in some distress.  (I’d be similarly uncomfortable with anything from the big monotheistic religions, to be honest, but I only ever see this done by Christians, for some reason).  Just needed to let you know.

Thanks for listening.

Tony


quick note to subscribers, regular readers, etc.

I’ll be checking in only sporadically over the next week or so as I’m working on a number of time-intensive projects, both for my creative work (a couple of new band recordings) and for my consulting business.  

I deliberately completed and posted a lot of poems this month already — 31 to be exact — to get ahead of the curve, so to speak…

Please go check out any of the approximately 3500 poems on the site while you’re waiting for new content.  I may post one or two more in the short term and will be back soon enough.

Thanks,
T