Sunday, August 17, 2014

Four Poems by Michael H. Brownstein


Because the subbasement flooded,
I dig into the fresh earth
in search of pipes,
cracks in pipes,
something I do not wish to touch.
The clay a few feet down,
the rock full of grease:

cast of clouds

cask of clouds

casket of clouds.

Did You Know the Poet Who Lost Her Voice?

This is who crushed the water
and this is how the tree died
and do you see it in the distance?--

    how the mud grew
    how limestone forms
    the color of graffiti,
    the statues of litter and paint . . .

Did you know life is a poet who lost her voice?

The Science and the Design

The Sunday after the Great Blizzard of 2013,
the only atheist of Calloway County attended church,
the sun threw a flare between clouds of thunder coloring a diamond strand of
   paper birch completely white
the old lady of the wheelchair walked unhesitatingly to the front of her fellowship
   thanking them for their letters and support,
Bible thumpers of a different sort began the reading of the New Testament
A. discovered a bag of minneola tangelos padlocked to her front door,
K. discovered a completed research paper in her inbox,
L. savored fifteen minutes of internet fame.
This was the truth of Wallace and Darwin,
the morning a seven year old sat on a school bus looking out over fields of rain
   and water and thought:
God or no God, it's raining outside and I'm on my way to Sunday school.  It will be
   this way if I pray or don't pray.
Rain.  Water.  This bus ride,
and he knew immediately everything in his long life would always be that ordinary.


-- from an anecdote by Alexander Yakoulov who tells of one of Stalin's trains on the way to Siberia stopping very briefly at a crossing and leaving behind a litter of small scraps of paper full of addresses, names and phone numbers

I was there when her train stopped,
Vents open in the cardinal corners like scars
Or better--the pox mark left by a crucifixion.
The day was a solid blue, so pretty, beautiful.
I could not know what was soldered in behind
Sealed doors and steel curtained windows,
But I could see the litter of paper scraps like rain.
When the train left, I picked up as many as I could
Pretending to be the one in charge of cleaning platforms.
When you bend to work it is easy to deceive.

Money was hard to come by then, the war just over,
And food, yet there were things you knew needed doing.
Twice before I had failed:  A woman across town
Wailed for help when her baby stopped breathing,
And I could have done one thing, but did not.
Then there was a failure of the shelves at the art fair,
A lifetime's work crashing to dust and broken clay.
Was it really so impossible for me to balance one shelf
To save the others?  I left her to her dust and tears.

I had one pair of torn shoes and I was hungry,
And I gathered the scraps of paper and waited.
Somehow I knew I could do the right thing.
Years later I still find a phone number in a crevice,
An address in a pocket, a name stuck in a box
I knew I would never send.

Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published.  His latest works, Firestorm:  A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Books on Blogs) and The Katy Trail, Mid-Missouri, 100F Outside and other poems (Barometric Pressures -- A Kind of a Hurricane Press).  His work has appeared in The Cafe Review, American Letters and Commentary, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, and others.  In addition, he has nine poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987), Poems from the Body Bag (Ommation Press, 1988), A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004), What Stone Is (Fractal Edge Press, 2005) and I Was a Teacher Once (Ten Page Press, 2011).  He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011).

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