The World is Not Coming to an End

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

One one by four oak plank,
a water logged salt stained antler of driftwood,
the soft skin of butternut bark and scar.

The world is coming to an end, she said,
and the young girl down the street
tied a dog’s leash around her neck
and went for broke. Elsewhere,
a dust of clouds rose from the shoreline,
smoke from a mountain shaft tinged the air,
an airplane let loose flames that blackened in the light.

How much strength to rise each morning,
eyes injured on a disfigured face,
the rocking of the body, the rhythm of what is heard
and what is not heard.

The world is coming to an end, she said,
and a boy was born to the mother of a soldier,
the son of a veteran in another round of war.
Count the fingers, count the toes,
how does his face look?

Years will go by,
a tree will mature and grow strong.
The world will not come to an end.

Let’s gather wood on the beach near the dunes.
You know the place–down the thick sand trail,
across a few ridges, near the graveyard of branches
where leaf changes to stone.

Once we dug a hole in the sand, placed sleeping bags
for flooring, built a roof with whatever wood
we could find. Openings filled themselves with night
and we slept well.

First published in


International Falls, Minnesota, Winter (a few decades from now, a century)

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

–based on the writings of David Auerbach

In the sweet wish of day,
a scone of buttercup and dew,
a lisp of cloud, a wash of sky—

in the heat of the valley,
in the heat of the rock lines,
in the heat of Kabetogama,
in the heat of broken asphalt—

the song of the scarlet macaw,
vibrating toad, blue lipped frog,
and lantern bug. Everywhere
water lily, wild rose, snakes with limbs,
lists and lists of whitewashed bone.

first published by Plum Tree Tavern

I Made a Mistake and Sampled Canada Dry Ten Ginger Ale

An Essay by Michael H. Brownstein
Food Freedom News

I’m one for freebies—always have been and always will be (until now). Why the sudden change? At my local grocery store, I was given a free sample of Canada Dry Ten Ginger Ale, took it home, opened it and took a huge swallow (perhaps five ounces).

Here’s what happened next:

Incredible nausea. A slow urge developing into a need to throw up. Sat on the toilet in waiting. Incredible gas. This went on for about an hour.

OK—why did a can of Canada Dry TEN Ginger Ale, a new product from the people who bring us Snapples, have such an extreme result on me?

I read the ingredients. Check them out:


So what’s the problem? There are a few: I never eat or drink anything with Aspartame in it. Recently I discovered Sodium Benzoate has issues that can impair your health, too, so I avoid this ingredient—though it’s awfully hard to do. And I never ever eat or drink anythng with high fructose corn syrup.

In other words, I eat healthy, and I eat healthy. Fruits and vegtables—many organics—wild caught fish. I make my own chicken soups and stocks and I have a garden that supplies me with spices and green onions among other things for almost eight months of the year.

But how can Aspartame have such a negative and quick effect on me? Or was it the sodium benzoate? Or perhaps it was the ingredient not listed on the website
( phenylketonurics and phenylanine.

What are these two ingredients? Why are they not listed on the website? Why does the can end its list of ingredients with “contains phenylanine” in bold letters?

I know about Aspartame: and I know about sodium benzoate: But I never ever heard of phenylketonurics and phenylanine.

So I did a google search and this is the first entry:

“Phenylketonurics” is NOT something you can catch from diet soda! This long, scary-sounding word is included in a warning at the end of the ingredients list on some products, but it is NOT an ingredient these products. “Phenylketonurics” is the term used to refer to people that have the metabolic disorder Phenylketonuria, or PKU for short. So – kind of like how the word “diabetics” refers to people that have “diabetes”, “phenylketonurics” refers to the people that have “phenylketonuria”.

I myself, am one of these phenylketonurics and the warning on diet soda cans is included merely to inform people like me that the product contains the synthetic chemical ASPARTAME. People that have the disorder PKU cannot consume any product that contains
aspartame. (Dr. Tracy L. Beck,

I don’t think I have this condition, but I sure did have side effects from drinking that can of Canada Dry TEN Ginger Ale and after reading the following links first paragraphs, I know I will never ever touch any drink with Aspartame in it.

“Have you ever noticed this on your product labels – WARNING: The amino acid L-phenylalanine should not be used by pregnant women or by those who suffer anxiety attacks or those who have high blood pressure or with pre-existing pigmented melanoma (form of cancer), or people with phenylketonuria (PKU). The amino acid DL-phenylalanine should be used with caution if you are pregnant or diabetic, if you have high blood pressure or suffer anxiety attacks.” (Dr. Janet Starr Hull)

OK—another poison on the market, it was marketed to me and I took it freely, so I’m changing my opening paragraph:

I’m one for freebies—always have been, but I won’t be in the future. I’ll need to know the ingredients ahead of time. As for a free sample of Canada Dry TEN Ginger Ale—don’t do what I did. Outright refuse it.

I was gaseous and nauseous for about eight hours after I drank from the can. It’s just not worth it.

A Debt to Water

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein 

The well of depression on my right,
so deep and sordid,
smells beautiful.
Beautiful is a shake of geese chattering toward the north.
Beautiful is the chorus of frogs at sunset, the pond purple-blue, green, then gold.
Beautiful is snow wren and king vulture and the ridiculous four legged snake.
Beautiful is not–
but of course it is–
the most perfect ever

taking every sadness from your eyes,

every sadness from your voice,

every sadness from your fears,

every rendering of flesh, every anguish, every bite,

every terrific madness,
every punch of the heart.
The well of depression on my right
welcomes all of this and more.
Don’t worry.
After a time your feet will be less bunioned, your head less bare,
the scars on your knuckles smooth and gentled,
your voice a charmed bracelet
intricate, that simple

Thank You, Mr. Librarian

An Essay by Michael H. Brownstein

A few years back a very corrupt and evil Chicago Alderwoman who was more interested in hats than the people she represented, made the following comment after she was given a grant for tens of thousands of dollars and planted trees on King Drive Blvd even though her community was blighted, crime ridden and one of the poorest communities in the United States: “Let them see the possibilities.”

Not too surprisingly, the trees worked, the neighborhood began cleaning itself up from King Drive to the east at first and then slowly to the west. It helped that the mayor ordered the demolition of the Robert Taylor Homes (to the west), the world’s largest public housing project, but the people did see the possibilities—and the neighborhood began improving. The next election, they voted in a new individual because she, too, spoke of possibilities—but not just in one area of the ward.

And so I come to a small town where a librarian struggles daily to show a town the possibilities. Because of him the populous had options. Because of him, possibilities were available and it was knowing that the possibilities were available that made the town just that much more livable.

In the small town of forty thousand, a town of beer drunks and bars and more than forty alcoholic anonymous groups, he offered critically acclaimed movies, discussion groups, a philosophy club, and much more. How many libraries have an adult librarian who really cares about the adults of his community? I do not know that answer, but I know this answer: George Dillard of the Jefferson City River Regional Library cared.

I read a lot of poetry and when I found a poem I enjoyed, I shared it with him. We would discuss it later—most of the time briefly, but every now and then in a more lengthy discussion. When my son wrote a brief philosophy book, he invited him in to discuss it. And when someone felt a book deserved to be in the library, he worked hard to make sure that book made it into the library—budget constraints be dammed.

George retired last week and he will be missed. But I wanted to thank him first for all of the possibilities before he moves on to bigger and better things.

Dear Dad: Happy Valentine`s Day!

Editor’s note: OK, we know it’s Father’s Day, (Editor’s note continued below the piece)…

A Prose Piece by Michael H. Brownstein.

Every year I ask my 6th-grade students to write a valentine to someone they love. It`s an enjoyable activity, and they have a lot of fun with it. They write to their mothers, of course, and sometimes to their friends, but they never write to their fathers.

My father is over 70. He still puts in a 40-hour week. He writes poems so full of vigor and life they can make me cry. I remember how he coached the baseball teams and beat me in sprints so often that I turned to long-distance running.

I remember once when he was too sick to leave his bed, but I had a cross- country meet and nothing could stop him from seeing me run. It was late November, past Thanksgiving, and the wind blew cold off the lake. I remember the ice on the sidewalks and the spots of snow on the grass-and my father at every turn, somehow beating me there, cheering me on, pointing me out, smiling his big smile.

I didn`t win that race, nor did I place. But I was a winner nonetheless. My father made me a champion. He was that proud of me. I was even prouder of him.

It has been years since that race and I still hold him high on a pedestal. I love to read his poetry and listen to his laughter. I know if I enter another late-November race, he will be in the front row cheering me on. My students never write valentine cards for their fathers and I am afraid I have been guilty of this, too. Not this year. This year I want to go on record that Valentine`s Day is also a day for fathers. Happy Valentine`s Day, Dad.

Editor’s note continued: …but doesn’t the above piece work for both days? Orignally published in the Chicago Tribune, February 14, 1988, we just thought this was a perfect Father’s Day gift.