How to Remain Invisible When the Great Storm Falls by Michael H. Brownstein


–Jefferson City, MO, tornado, 11:40 PM, May 22nd/23rd, 2019

Two days later you navigate the ruts in the road,
fallen trees, torn roofs, swinging wires, broken poles
to a house at the end of a broken street and a gravel path,
up the steps of a porch still strong, an electric box dangling,
no windows broken, branches and car parts a picture frame.
When the door opens, heat rushes outside. A frail woman
at the door. Yes, she says. On her kitchen table,
a melting ice-cream carton, bags of leaking vegetables,
the soiled odor of spoiled milk. Come in, she says.
No electricity, a water pipe maligned, gas turned off.
All around you, every house has a sign—you can stay or
you must vacate. There is no sign on her front door.
You’re the first people I’ve seen in three days. Is it safe?
We have food, you tell her, and water. One of us
can remain with you. We’ll see if we cannot get you help.
And then the wind of the tornado slips from her.
her body rocks, then shivers, one hand goes to her face.
Sorry, she says. I can’t help it and she cries and cries.



Michael H. Brownstein is on the roof of his old house, the roof in serious disrepair, and he walks on it as if he’s on a boardwalk – a squirrel falls through where he just stood – what is left to do but go to all fours, tread carefully until he’s on safe ground, call the roofers (he can’t fix this), and write a poem.

He’s walking across a great field, firecrackers exploding. He swats away at dozens of mosquitoes. Near where he teaches, the security guard tackles him and points out a sniper who has been shooting at him as he crossed. There is nothing else to do but conduct a poetry workshop in his algebra class.

He goes camping, and a rattlesnake crawls into his sleeping bag. Prayer and poetry – they really do go together.

On and on. Take a break. Write a poem.



Photograph by Robert Lawson.

Tamalpais by Nicole Michaels


I am keeping your secrets
as if I wrote the legend,

crashed the planes,
abandoned the cars,

set the plaque
for Sitting Bull.

Your peeling manzanitas
are safe with me,

your rock,
your fire roads.

I have nothing to offer
except myself as I was,

gilded like a trout
downstream of your sleeping figure,

bronzed below your witch-guarded peak.




Nicole Michaels is a Marin County, CA native who makes her home in frontier Wyoming. She is a working poet with a degree in English from Stanford University where she studied under the late Diane Middlebrook and chose an emphasis in feminist studies. She spent some time in the American South as a journalist for small papers.


Top photograph by Brent Peters/Derangedtoco; Bottom photograph by Jerrye and Roy Klotz. 

Father by Michael H. Brownstein


I always thought you would outlive me
Lifting heavy boxes past the age of seventy,
Carrying them fifty feet without rest
As if you were white water riding a crest
Of a wave digging talons into sand—
You were always the one I could count on to stand
As my corner man in the boxing ring
Or tell me a lie when I was asked to sing
At this function or that, knowing my throat
Was stale bread, textured oat.
Yet now I find you tied to machines
Calculating strokes of your heart on reams
Cascading past the nurse’s station in intensive care.
I left work early wondering if I dare
Peek in to see you beyond the open door.
You smile, plant heavy white stocking feet to the floor:
I’m OK, you tell me, my heart was racing,
And you move your finger to your chest as if tracing
A child’s picture shaded with red
An intricate design with a loose thread.



Michael H. Brownstein’s latest poetry volume, A Slipknot Into Somewhere Else: A Poet’s Journey To The Borderlands Of Dementia, was recently published by Cholla Needles Press (2018).


Art by Jenn Zed