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

Tornado_Damage,_Illinois

–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.

Father by Michael H. Brownstein

cq_de_ou_oz_hanne_by_frogstar_23_dd3k657-pre

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

Three Poems by Michael H. Brownstein

sistine2

An Affair with Love

Now that everything is over,
The speed bump, the crack in concrete,
A chapbook by Steven Steven Schletor
Open to pages four and five
Waving its torn hands in the wind.
When it rains, when it snows,
After the hail, after the heavy sleet,
After the weather breaks to a drizzle,
The staples bend and rust and break,
But this is nothing. Water has a way
With cardboard and paper, rock
And sandstone, love and ink.

 

Errands and Other Things Occupy My Time

and now I look through my list of poems,
a silence so concise it swells into me.
Is there no room for hunger or shame,
the loose breath of the injured fawn
leaning terribly against the injured oak,
its new buds wet with the last blossoms of snow?
Somewhere children are flying kites. It is spring.
Somewhere children are flying kites. It is fall.
The homeless man from the corner tells me
water is the hardest thing to find in the city.
“Can you spare fifty cents? I need a can of cola.”
His teeth are like mine, coated and spoiled.
I give him a quarter and he buys a bag of chips.

 

In the Morning It Will Still Be Okay

This is not who I love. This is not what I love.
Love is a god-stone, thick and sometimes valuable,
strong-wristed, one arc of a finger
stretching.

Love has the weight of god, the weight of Eve’s sister,
Lilith, and vomit, water mixed with salt,
A mottled permutation of tear strained skin,
pink and ordinary, thinly veined and iridescent,
the sigh of sun arriving into day’s orange blue.

This is who I love. This is what I love.
An evening of chimneys and steam,
a cloud of feather and frog,
green eyes,
you.

 

 

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.

 

Detail of Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo.

#Mountains: Mountain Storm by Michael H. Brownstein

449px-Alluivial_Fan_Falls_Rocky_Mountain_National_Park_USA

It’s a rock day full of song erosion and then it rains,
the wind noise crisscrossed, cross-stitched,
glacier waters bleeding off course, bumps and pebbles,
stone and flesh, branch and burp. How easily bones
flush from the mountain after a storm, white washed
like albino skin, the broken facade of stucco, the last
snow melting, and sometimes the singing is a Siren.
Great walls open and collide, stale and crusty. A tree
breaks at its waist and everyone hears it. In a rock day,
and yes, you can hear the sound of one hand clapping.

 

 

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 Greg Tally. 

#Mountains: Reign of Ash by Michael H. Brownstein

12992_Hawaii-Volcanoes-National-Park-web

This is one of those nights you never dream,
The sky not on fire, but burning.
Falling ash and ember. An orange cantaloupe moon. Nosebleeds. Diarrhea.

The volcano dome collapses, a sudden cloud, and night is hyphenated.
A rain of black ash
And all of the stars drop from sight in bundles.

The people come out of their homes and stand on their verandas,
A people of the long knife and volcanic dust,
Skin hard with ash, hair ash-poisoned, ash sweat stew.

Spirits roam the roads and pathways, find life in the old ones,
The village’s simple center crowded into the hill,
Welcomes the voices of the dead.

Later island rescue comes with breathing masks,
A church opens its doors early to pray for rain,
Goats come from their hiding places to shake themselves free.

All day dust clouds landscape and window.
The mountain sacrifices itself to lahars and spirit people.
Everything, every leaf, every iguana, every ghost wrapped in ash.

 

 

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.

# Mountains: High on Her Mountain, the Witch Witch Warms Herself by Michael H. Brownstein

karin_dreijer_anderson_by_frogstar_23-dcd3vjs.png

The witch witch wakes hungry
ice on her breath,
clouds in her hair,
underwear gray and red,
warts sprawled across her arms.
There are always people who are meant to harm you.
The witch witch is not one of them.
She can dig a shallow grave,
pray over a cat at play with a mouse,
squash a scorpion between thumb and forefinger.
The witch witch sees the dormant volcano
through an opening in her wall,
the sudden rise of steam, the push
of ash like wet sand,
the beautiful collapse of the dome.
She walks onto her veranda,
folds her small hands into a smile,
and watches the mountain catch fire.

 

 

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.

 

Watercolor by Jenn Zed

#Immigration: The Wall in Question by Michael H. Brownstein

Algodones_sand-dune-fence

A wall built on tumbleweed, spit, grasshopper larvae
Help us, people–help us understand—help us visualize–
I understand none of this. Is there a way I can know?
A wall built of bone marrow mortar and dog piss,
Violent thought and disconnection, the rapid fire
Of bullet cored brick. Help us understand where
This river enters the realm, where this river empties
Its blood to the valleys of snow, how the impact
Of dour men with raccoon hat hair suck away the core.

First published in New Verse.

 

 

Bio: 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 United States Department of Homeland Security.