Meeting The Teacher

Embodied light,
he called me,

said each of us
is an embodied light,
each of us born
illuminating our own steps
and then the steps of
those who would follow;

I reminded him, gently
but with certainty,
that behind them
would come long shadows
and they would be
embodied too;

he said,

we walk from dark toward light
and into dark and into light
and make the dark and make the light
as always
and it does not change 
who we are at heart
to know that,

even if sometimes
the light we are
goes out.

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Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.


Three Hundred And Fifty Failures

I’ve tried fifty-eight times
to explain the modern world as
a game show,

started and crumpled sixty-two drafts
about sexual love as
an orchard,

and made two hundred
and thirty attempts at an epic
on the sonic characteristics of each
key on a piano as compared to
the landscapes of nations
along the Mediterranean coasts.

All I have to show for all that work is

one sad brain, garish as a TV soundstage;

self-loathing slumped under an apple tree
that’s been split from age and rot;

a postcard from Tunisia that reads,
“having a decent time, wish you were here;”

this song of three hundred
and fifty failures
that I might yet turn into something
of worth if

I can stop chewing on it long enough
to give myself time to search 
every inch of it
for meat to live on.


Rifle

On a late summer day
that should have been 
a hammock day, a cookout day,
I went to war.

In the privacy of my home
I raised an ancient rifle,
long unfired, to my damp
and blurring eye.

I did not dry fire it. That much
I recalled from long ago; I set it down
and stared at the manual,
began to calm myself

by cleaning it as prescribed:
barrel, chamber, magazine,
bolt, carrier, spring. A peace
beyond understanding took hold

as I reassembled it and
once again sighted down its length,
all the time reminding myself
that this was last resort, ultimate

surrender to reality; I know
for years I would have thought it
more fantasy than practical plan
but practicality has failed, planning

has failed for too many of us now;
when I was done I sat and stared
at the news for a while with the rifle
in my lap, the ammo still boxed

on the coffee table, the empty clip
beside the box, waiting to be filled.
I held onto comfort, telling myself
at least I had no need or urge

to raise the shades and load and fire
randomly into the neighborhood,
hoping to strike an enemy 
without seeing them fall —

it seems right now they are 
everywhere and friend and foe
are too often the same in face
and word. Then I said: this is insane.

I put the rifle away while trembling
like leaves on the poplar trees upon which
I hang my hammock in which I
am lying now, reckoning with how

the newly cleaned and now loaded
weapon I’ve long claimed to abhor
no longer languishes in a chest
in the spare room, but instead

is stashed and waiting
on an obscured
but easy to reach rack
inside the closet in the hall.


Race

I’m trying to get past hating the life I’m in
though I admit I find it bracing
to race through it with my fists up

It’s been pretty easy of late to get my fight on
It’s all I can do to keep from screaming for violence
as some kind of rapid response solution

which I’m told might feel far better
but be less effective than slowing down
and talking out the various issues and concerns

with sweethearts on the far side of where I’m at
who still keep my well being in their hearts 
or claim they do while doing all that’s in their power

to close down all the nourishing parts of my life
and the essence of this place where I find myself now
is that I’m halfway through a marathon

that should never even have been a sprint
that should never have gotten out of the blocks
and I’m not talking about the politics of the moment

or the previous moment or the one before that
I’m talking way back at the starting blocks when 
after first contact and first settlement and first

Thanksgiving and all the other self-serving myths
of first steps that were in fact kicks and stomps
so I’m beginning to think that all the calls for peace

and love and moderation and patience are in fact
exactly what all the kicker and stompers want 
so in the running of the race they’ve started

they can reach back or over
and with an outstretched arm knock us back
while barely breaking their own deadly strides

so why in the hell am I still listening to those
who believe in loving the enemy even as they kill us
when instead my blood sings the truth that we are

almost to the end of the race so there’s no shame
in wanting to cross that finish line
on my feet and not my knees 

not to mention the fact that I’m not even
trying to win this race I never wanted to run
I just want it over


A Broken Arrow

Used to shoot
my father’s bow
in the backyard.

Had a sheaf of 
arrows, yellow shafted,
target heads like

sharp bullets, with
one white shafted one
chased with red — that

was my favorite. Saved it
for last every time I ran 
through them all, 

banging them into 
the plywood side
of the shed. I knew

the right grip, the 
two finger pull without
the thumb, prided myself

on form almost more
than accuracy — and one day
somehow hit something

off to the side of the target
and shattered that magic
bolt. I panicked and stared

at the splinters
for a few minutes,
then tossed it into

the woodpile to be burned
in winter, then still
some months off,

pushing aside the judgement
until later — but my father
never said a word. I am not sure

he valued that arrow 
much at all, but it was
everything about archery

to me: special arrow, fantasy 
arrow, the Ultimate I always tried
to be immaculate with when I shot

with my father’s bow
in my father’s backyard,
trying to hit the target dead on,

trying to make myself
perfect in a skill
I’d never need, a skill

from a past time,
a past existence, 
a fantasy I’d made of myself.


How Are You?

Since you asked,
to be honest today
I’m a bit
shattered,

cracked like
a cell phone’s screen
with a screen protector
slapped in place over it to hold it
together — and

isn’t that a modern
thing, that it’s perfectly fine to be
visibly broken as long as
you function

more less as expected —
so to answer the question
I’m perfectly fine, couldn’t be better
except for obvious
damage — so imperfectly fine
it is instead; don’t press me

too hard on this, 
and don’t attempt to drag
more from me than I 
am willing to offer 
at the risk of drawing blood —

there have been so many
crashes, so many face-down drops
into the concrete, maybe
I’m a bit harder to read than you’d like
but even with all that 

I’m still trying to be of use
to someone — maybe there’s someone
who finds my web of hurt
endearing, a deep story
of fault lines and impact wounds
worth clinging to,

at least until
something cleaner comes along — 

at least until the next
shattering fall
rends me and I fail
utterly in spite how many
desperate attempts are made
to keep me going.

And you?


Big Beautiful Bullet

Someone designed
a monument
to a stray cop bullet
that broke through walls
and killed
a child asleep
in a crib,

couldn’t decide 
on which city
needed it most
as there were so many
to choose from,

cast a giant version
of it and placed it
in the dead geographical center
of the USA

where it was supposed
to become
the singular idol
of all who saw it,

its shadow coloring
all the land around it
for thousands of miles,

where it stood until one day
people began to ask
why the statue had been made,
why the statue had been placed so centrally 
as to shade everything so deeply,

and most of all,
why honor the bullet
and not the child,
why the bullets
and not children,
why build such
a statue at all
instead of building a wall
between our babies
and such
hard, officially blessed
Death.

The people reached
to tear it down
even as some cried out
for the vanishing beauty
of the bullet’s hue.

The people reached up
and pulled it down
even as some cried out
for the loss of memory
they feared would come.

The people turned their backs
upon the empty pedestals
even as some cried out 
for the loss of their big, beautiful bullet
and the fear shadow it had cast
for so long.


Privileged Prayer

I want to know
when it will be 
permissible
for me to turn my face
away from the 
blood-soggy state
of the world and 
return to praising
the clarity and 
loveshocked hue of
my beloved’s eyes,  
to bask in the sun
under the leaves of 
a grand oak while 
summer buzzes around us,
to drowse without 
reaching for the radio 
to turn up a raging
story or turn down
a tragedy.  I want to know
what it feels like 
not to care about
what is happening
in places other than my
own garden. Now that
my privilege and my ability
to ignore so much
have been torn to rags,
I want to know how
I can mend them well enough
to enjoy unalloyed happiness
again, as this desperate 
scrabbling to seize joy
between moments
of fear is so hard; 
I cannot understand
how so many millions
have done it
for so long.


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