WAR VRS. BEAUTY

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

Let us say the colorful hummingbird symbolizes peace.
Let us say the two legged giant with weak arms is the gray of cruelty–
The hummingbird swift and agile, a glitter of texture;
the giant clumsy and slow, the creator of tools of destruction.
Let us say they meet in the field of wild flowers blossoming.
After the fires fade, only a thick fog of death remains.
Let us say the hummingbird tries to symbolizes peace.
Let us say the giant with weak arms tries to be the master of extinction.
The field will regain itself, flowers will bloom, hummingbirds will sing.
their soft whisper of a song: I do this work for you,
two legged giant with weak arms, so you will have many fields
colored with beauty and sweet perfumes to scent the air.

A BREATH OF FORTITUDE

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstrein

–based on an image by artist Vony Razom who is currently producing art from a bomb shelter in Ukraine

in the madness of the fertile lands,
a red blossom and its red leaves–
and from its seed, red caterpillars
bending into Red admirals, strong
in wing and shape, rugged Vanessas

do not mistaken fractures in the sea
for weakness of the heart, soul sickness–
she knows the beauty of self and water

from her place on the shore of power,
a current: she flips into the air, sails
within the wind, reflects on strength
and courage–sometimes a butterfly
becomes human and changes the world.

NOW

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

if radiant energy
if the prism with well-lit blossoms
if a tambourine sparks the scent of orange-blue

walk with me through the forest of log cabins
near the path of the river of gold
into the cave where diamonds echo vibrations of taste

this could be a maybe
this could be a possibility
this could be the silent laughter

in the end what if
if could be anything else
but the if it allows itself to be

The End of Roe vs. Wade–Consequences

THE DANCE OF TWO COAT HANGERS

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

Something soft, perhaps indelible.
Make sure the bathtub water is cold to the touch.,
but not unbearable–lean into your body–
find your quiet space.
But first, the door must be locked.
No one can disturb you.

The hangers, elongated, stretch to the thighs,
its metal hard, yur skin pliant,
a mixing of fear and a mixing of anxiety.
this is how some of the things you care about
become things you can no longer bear,
how everything can change in a second
and fever on forever.

If the metal does not find an entrance,
do not force it.
When you bend to far towards your knees,
when you lose touch with yourself,
if the metal scrapes into blood,
if a cloud becomes solid and a fog sweat,
listen carefully to your eyes.
Tears are often lifesavers.
Sobs are often the only way to get out of the water.
Do not ever allow yourself to drown.

Then
rest within melody, thick breath, a shadow of whisper–
I performed this dance once, and succeeded.
A best friend, no.
Before you leave this evening,
be aware–and she finally paused–
every dance you will do from then on will be less fragile.

.

JUST BECAUSE A LEADER IS MAD DOES NOT MEAN YOU MUST FOLLOW HIM

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

Putin tries to poke holes into the body’s work of a nation
but the body’s work of the nation cannot be poked through—

gut-shot punctuation, terrorist renderings, vocabulary of madness
and Russia bleeds fire, cruelty, vocabulary of an insane man’s mind.

He walks into the noise more than once,
and now he must exit from the room:

You do not have to follow a leadership lodged in evil.
Following orders is not a defense.

How do you fight a courageous people, Putin?
You do not. Geocide is murder. Murder is murder.

Two Poems–for Lori and Enrique

Poems by Michael H. Brownstein

For My Sister, Lori

–She will be missed.

She was beautiful
even when she was not–
brilliant
even when she pretended not to be–
a huge window of passion
even as passion was downsized–
and, yes, she was beautiful
even when she was not.

I’m standing in some kind of church
praying to a foreign god:
Please make everything right.
Please make everything good.
The surgery to remover her brain tumor
successful.
I was maybe five.

Hey, I said, you have to listen to this
and I played Vanilla Fudge.
She clapped, asked for more,
and we chugalugged to the Supremes at the Copa.
I was maybe twelve.

I can handle this one, she commanded,
and I’m sure everything will be solved.
We were working in Uptown, Chicago,
a great sprawling slum violent and neglected.
She took the child under her wing
and he thrived because her wings were that strong.
I was ,maybe nineteen and she
one year younger.

Of course, you can come, and she laughed.
My home is always your home.
The pipes in my old house had burst again
and she warmed me with tacos,
handed me a warm towel,
asked what else I might need to be comfortable.
I was maybe in my thirties.

At the art fair,
she knew everyone.
Introduced me to one artist after another,
gave me a front row seat under her canopy.
What do you think? she asked
and without words she knew my response.
I was maybe forty-five.

Then one day she took a swim in the river
a Mercedes Benz
and climbed the banks a rusted Ford.
Suddenly
everything was underwater.
She asked me why this happened to her.
How do you answer that kind of question?

She died at 8:22 PM,
January 16th, 2022
complication from a stroke.
The night before she passed,
she spent the early evening
singing old time songs with her husband,
and even though her stroke
hit her five years earlier
and she could hardly see
or move parts of her body,
she danced.
Oh, yes, she danced.

To Lori’s Husband, Enrique

–May he forever remain strong.

He told me she was his rock.
I already knew that.
He told me how beautiful she was.
This, too, I knew.
He told me he missed her.

I told him she was the house he dreamed
and he was it’s foundation.
I told him she was the stately oak
and he was its roots.

He married her after her stroke,
took care of her for five years
even when the path led only to quicksand
and hardened lava, sink holes and mud.
I thought how God brings people into your life
for a reason–she was his reason/
he was her angel of glory.

I want to let you know how rich they were together.
It’s important to me that you know.
They had a real love, a love so rich it shamed bankers,
shamed people yearning to be of the one percent,
and, yes, they were richer than even the richest half percent,
their love so great, so strong, even after the stroke
she was everything and so was he.

Enrique, remain steadfast in your love.
Remember your last night together.
You sang with her and I know Amun listened,
I know Osiris heard, I know the Turquoise Prince applauded,
I know Pacha Mama sang along.
Dance, Enrique, dance.
Your love is already immortal.

http://medusaskitchen.blogspot.com/2022/02/oh-yes-they-danced.html

THIS, TOO, HAPPENED AT THE CROSSROADS

Flash fiction by Michael H. Brownstein

At the crossroads, our gods entertained us.

Saturday night, we caught two men who did not belong. We imprisoned them in sand until only their heads were exposed as our gods watched.

Then the earth began to shake releasing a fresh spring. Carob trees sprouted. There was shade and refreshment. An angel appeared badly disfigured. Not able to fold her wings, she kneeled before them.

There was no need for this. These men were different. They did not belong. They disserved punishment. With a look, she silenced us.

An earthquake set them free, and a great light settled over Bethlehem.

THE NIGHT SANTA ALMOST FAILED

A work of Flash fiction by Michael H. brownstein

Santa’s sleigh was ready.

The elves counted down: “Go!” they shouted. Santa gave the command for the reindeer to takeoff.

Nothing happened.

The reindeer strained, but they could not move the sleigh.

There was nothing to do but remove the large TV sets and computers.

Still the sleigh would not budge.

“OK,” Santa said, “get rid of the phones.”

The phones? There were so many phones, would there be enough time? Soon the phones were piled around the sleigh–and the sleigh took off easy as, yes, easy.

When We Were Savages

When We Were Savages
a collaborative poem in five parts by the Jeff City Poets:
Michael H. Brownstein
Bob Boldt
Dick Dalton
& Michael E. Strosahl

I—Ota Benga (c.1883-March 20,1916)
Michael H. Brownstein

I was the hunter of elephants—
I fed my village for weeks at a time—
but I made two mistakes:
I welcomed the men with no skin
and I did not die a warrior’s death
when they killed everyone in my clan.
I fought hard and took many of them
before they captured me whole.
Why did they not kill me?
They told about lessons to be learned,
but they underestimated a hunter of elephants.

Strangely,
it was a man without skin
who bought my freedom,
took me to his world
away from forests and glades
to a place of noise and metal.

Yes, I returned home,
but there was no one to return to.
Yes, they put me on exhibit when I came back,
these strange people gawked,
wanting to sit at the same table as me
and, yes, my teeth,
sharpened into canines,
frightened and thrilled them.

It’s just that I missed the forest.
I was an elephant hunter,
a great man of my people,
a provider and warrior—
how sad I could not return when I wanted.
In my soft unnatural bed
I dreamt of going home,
finding a mate,
beginning a new clan—
wasn’t I the hunter of elephants?
The Great War got in the way,
men with no skin fighting men with no skin
and I did not understand.

I could not die a warrior’s death
I with capped teeth
living in a room without trees,
without brush.
This was no way to live—
the glory of teeth hidden from view,
dressed in clothing that chafed
skin and soul,
working in a large building,
making things of no intrinsic value.
So I let myself die—
the gun a weapon of my enemies
and in the battle to death,
I died a warrior,
the hunter of elephants.

There are many myths about me,
many more lies.
Remember me not
as the caged man in St Louis,
not as an exhibit in Washington DC,
nor as a man behind metal in the Bronx,
but as a man.

I was on view,
I was an exhibit,
but I was never a slave.
Yes, I gorged on bananas,
yes, I bragged about my teeth,
yes, I snarled better than the lion nearby
yes, I knew how to put on a show.

I was the first performance artist,
but never a prisoner in a cage for long—
just enough to look into the faces
of men who could never outdo me.

II-Ishi (c.1861-March 25, 1916)
Maik StrosahlI

In your lust for the sparkle,
you slaughtered my people,
in your desire to possess the land,
you scattered the last of us—
Mother, too sick to run,
was hiding in the blankets
as you tore through our camp,
left to the spirits soon after my return.

Those years,
I hid in the trees of the high ground,
foraged the land and
called myself to the holy ones.
When I could no longer live alone
with only the company of spirits,
great Yahi people long gone
but to my memories,
I embraced the death
descending to your camps might bring.

You found me starving,
this hungry old man,
but bound me for fear
of what a “wild man” might do,
even one of my age.

And you wondered why I just grinned.

You put me on display,
gathered crowds
to see “the last wild Indian”,
only then did it occur anyone
to save the words of Yana,
to record the stories of Yahi,
to listen to the ramblings
of this old man you let
clean your school.

You wanted me to learn your ways,
but I am too old,
I preferred my native clothing to your stiff suits,
though I posed for your photographs
and I would tell you anything you wanted—
except my name.

You took that from me when you
took those who would speak for me,
the ones who are just stories now,
unbelievable tales of an old man
who grew weary of the constant sick
that comes from living among
those who killed my people,
those who left me nameless,
coughing anonymously to the nurses,
calling in a fever
to the spirits that would soon gather me—
by name,
free from the consumption.

III-Minik Wallace (c.1890-October 29, 1918)
Bob Boldt

I lie here, one in a sea
of cots and coughing bodies,
heaving our last.
I lie, Minik, the first and last,
Inuit son of a mighty hunter.

Icebergs float past my bed
in this municipal gymnasium,
now a field hospital.
Sometimes the icebergs
become starched nurses
making rounds,
followed by pallbearers.
All around, the smell of antiseptic
and the breath of death
no delirium can staunch.

Yesterday, I smelled fresh seal blubber
hung in the cold air to dry.
Why did I come back here if not to die
in the bad air of this new world?
Now I will ride the smoke to see
this Jesus or my mighty hunter father,
whichever can get to me first across
the icy wastes of Paradise.
I still remember
when Robert Peary took us off
to where the giant icicles
pierce the grey sky.
Manhattan they called it
and they called me Wallace,
Minik Wallace.

Why did they carry me to this cursed land
of fouled air and fish in cans?
This land I cannot understand
and cannot leave;
this land of the psychopaths.
In my childhood,
I only met one of these kunlangetese.
On my island these issues were resolved:
thirteen went hunting that day,
twelve returned.
I thank Mr. Peary and the Museum for my education,
and I understand perjury.
I would give all the Bibles in the world
for a good kayak and a whalebone harpoon.

IV-I Transform…
Dick Dalton

Black
as moonless nights
without stars
I glisten
with diamonds of sweat.
Caged
in the land of the free
I transform…
coming soon
to the home of the hypocrite.

Dad
was an outspoken Garveyite.
Our house was burned.
They said
“He fell
under a streetcar.”
Dead
in the land of the liars.
I transform…
freed with knowledge
taught by
caged
Black
elders.

Black absorbs
centuries of subjugation.
White repels
the heat of truth
his soul enslaved
his culture his cage.
I transform…
“By any means necessary”
striking fear in their hearts.

Justice demands,
“People of color take
power!”
The Hajj
erases color
for the few who see the soul.
I am Malcolm X
an outspoken messenger of Allah.
Our house is bombed.
I transform…

Stop.
Look inside.
Listen
for the bell of the streetcar.

V-Who Really Were the Savages?
Michael E. Strosahl

At Circus World in Baraboo,
we played the freaks,
we were the baboons,
the ferocious feline
stalking the bars of a cart,
back and forth,
while mom laughed,
snapping pictures
of her captured monsters.

At Niabi and
even Lincoln Park in Chicago,
we wandered between enclosures,
amazed by beasts on display,
making faces at the animals until
smacked on the back of the head,
herded on to the next display.

I was still riding in grocery carts
when I asked my mom
why that man by the carrots
did not take a bath.
I remember her turning red,
embarrassed as he looked up
and we quietly moved away
while she explained
we come in many shades

and that was all it took for me.
Yet I can claim no innocence
to other differences:
pointing at the woman with no legs,
laughing at the man in his dress,
whispering about those girls
dolled up and standing on street corners.

I read somewhere
that once a zoo in the Bronx
put a man on display—
a distant savage out of place
for visitors to watch
as he paced his enclosure,
watching us
watch him,
making faces as we
twisted ours,
holding back a snarl
as we roared

and I stopped to think,
remembering the circus,
the zoos,
gawking at those on display
as if they were ours to judge.
Were they so strange
in those distant days,
in those recent yesters,
when we would stare
and they would shrink in fear?
Though they were our captives,
the thought occurs now that
we were the savages.

Kaos and the Rat Pack

Flash Fiction by Michael H. Brownstein

The two legged animal—at least I only see two feet (not four like my pals and me)—has divided us into a two rooms. He is one side and we are on the other. It’s not because we’re too loud though we do like to bark and howl when we hear sounds that interest us. It’s not because we play hard and rough and sometimes squeal. It may be because we always beg for food or to be petted. I can’t tell you why he divides the room. He just does.

But that’s not here nor there. What is here is my plan to break out of the room and then figure a way to get outside. I tell the rat pack watch and learn.When he opens the sliding door to get on our side, I make a run for him and he closes his legs so I can’t get by, but then he turns sideways at the last second and I’m in the other room. I bark a few barks and the rat pack barks a few barks and then we giggle back and forth and I bark again because he is opening the door and coming to my side and he’s heading to the door to the outside.

When he opens it, I make my move, and he almost catches me, but I slip past him and I’m outside. I can hear the adoring barks from the rat pack caught on their side of the room. I can also hear the large booming voice of our friend who feeds us and gives us water. He’s calling my name, but I’m outside and I’m not on a leash and I’m almost to the corner and now I’m at the corner and I’m turning so quickly, there is no way he can keep up and then–

Across the street from where I live is a giant graveyard. A spooky place. I never go day or night. Nor do the rat pack. And here is why:

THE GRAVEYARD DOGS!

My friend is calling me and I’m not looking and then I do look and I put on my speedy four paws skids because directly in front of me are THE GRAVEYARD DOGS! I turn as fast as I can and the race is on. They are right behind me.

I’m running as fast as I can, but it’s not good enough. I need my friend to have the door open so I can get inside before I become food for THE GRAVEYARD DOGS and here is why I like my friend so much. He knows exactly what to do. He reaches the door before me, opens and then slams it shut. I run to the window and watch them run to the door, pause, and then run back to the graveyard where they belong.

Can’t wait to tell the rat pack about the time I beat THE GRAVEYARD DOGS.

The Set of Her Body

A Prose Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

I look at the set of her body, the style of range, the linoleum on the patio, the robin’s nest in the eave of the front porch, the wino sipping whiskey out of a glass bottle in a paper bag on the front stoop. She is afraid to go outside until he leaves. I go outside and sit next to him.
Inside the windows mirror self-satisfaction and overcast skies. Outside the sky is true blue and the sun bright white. He offers me the bottle and I decline. He pulls a broken pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and puts them on. “I feel cooler now,” he says and takes another drink.
When I go back inside, she has put on her pretty dress and is standing in the room she has named MY FANCY ROOM. The room is empty space with the exception of a rich thick handmade rug on one wall and another on the hardwood floor. I look at the set of her body. I reach for her waist. “You are in need of a tune-up,” I whisper, and she nods, yes, handing me her arm. I begin to tighten her strings.
Wouldn’t you know it is at that exact moment a car backfires down the street, a man shoots a stranger with a shotgun two blocks over, and suddenly there is the symphonic opera eclipse of sirens rushing to the just now explosion in the industrial part of town.
I sit against the wall and look at the set of her body. This is too much to carry in my head. The set of her body…the design of her dress…the broken strings in my hand…

Our Father’s Day Tribute

Poetry by Michael H. Brownstein

I CUT THE GRASS WITH MY SON

My son, no longer a boy, tall and taller
Leans into the lawn mower on the hill,
The last quarter acre of land, the grass
Tall, too, lanky like him allows itself
To shape shift, the first days of September,
The sun on fire, the air on fire, I am melting,
My hair loose over my face like a wet mop,
My shirt discolored with everything pouring
From me, but there is shade and somehow
A light breeze. My son is as composed as can be,
Pushing the mower up the hill for another pass.
When he is done, he asks what’s next.
The silk trees, I point, growing everywhere.
And the vinko vines leaching into tree trunks
We wish to keep healthy. There’s a strand
Of poison ivy. The evergreen needs a trim.
So we work and the weight of the work
Grows heavy within me, but he is not wet,
His hands are not dirty, and yet the silk trees
Fall, the vinko vines disrupted at their roots,
The poison ivy cut at its source. Next?
He asks, but I need a break, our gallon jugs
Humid in the heat, and I am hungry, too,
So we enter the house where his baby girl
Leans into her mother, already knowing strength,
And my son who is no longer a boy
Lifts his child carefully in his large hands,
Kisses her gently on the forehead once, twice, twice more.
We have to do more, he tells her. When we finish,
We’ll take a walk downtown, visit the library,
And maybe get a bite to eat. What do you think?
And he kisses her again, on the top of her head,
Rubs his hand through the soft silk of her hair,
His strong hands containing all of her, his baby girl
Making baby sounds, and my son blue skies happy.

I THINK ABOUT MY SON WHILE I CUT A QUARTER ACRE OF LAWN

The father trims trees; his son trims trees–
they stand together before a mosaic of large bark,
new blossoms, a glitter of leaf, each one
holds a clipboard and a small golf scoring pencil,
their heads bent towards each other discussing
length and circumference, distance and height,
dry rot, the mulberry growing out of the maple,
the small tree forming in the elbow of dogwood
and I cut the grass in long rows thinking of my son,
the flea market twenty dollar mower grunting
one line after another, steep hills, roots,
the remnant of an old wall now revealing itself,
rock and brick, tree debris, clumps of earth,
the sun warming me to sweat and brine,
knowing he is cool in his lab researching herbs
and a multitude of plants, degrees in botany,
grants to travel to Vancouver, Scotland,
the the north of Viet Nam near the Chinese border,
to Missouri and his farm of figwort and moss,
then Chicago to his office, a portrait of his son and wife
on the wall above his desk, a photo of his mother,
the air conditioner blasting, his equipment singing
soft hymns, his computers opening pages of notes.
He will be coming to visit late August, the grass
not as tall, the rocks and debris gone,
and he will wake after his first night in his old bed,
come down for breakfast, his family still recovering
from their long trip, and say to me,
“Let’s cut the grass?” and I will answer, “Yes.”

How do we create love?

We loved this piece so much, we decided to see if we cannot make this poem into a Christmas tradition. Here is an encore presentation:

A Christmas Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

Four days from the start of winter, five days from the great Ursid meteor shower,
six days after the temperature climbed into the sixties, rain fell, froze on contact,
changing everything to white ice, clean and smooth, clear and crunchy.
The man and woman stand outside their small home, logs burning in the fireplace,
candles lit in darker corners, thick sunlight heating everything through thin windows.
It is cold outside. They listen to the scents around them, see the sounds of shadows,
smell the fresh breeze swinging through the bare trees, arms around each other,
scarves across their throats, hats light on their heads, heavy jackets open to the day.
Christmas comes in the morning, he says. I know, she answers. I never asked,
he continues. I did not ask either, she replies. I do not need anything, he says.
Nor I, and she smiles and pauses and lets out a fog of air. We are not like that,
he begins again. We are not like the air you see in this weather when you breath.
We have something stronger and we have something greater. She turns her head to him.
A glitter of light flashes through a nearby evergreen, its needles ripen with sunshine,
each branch flickers and stops—a pause in wind. I know, she answers.
We have all we need. We have a flower blossom and an agate and he kisses her lightly.
That is all I have ever needed and will ever need, he says, the flint strong within him,
the day blue-lit, the forest strong and healthy, rainbows slipping from the eaves.

Love is created in many ways. This is but one of them.

(From his new book, How Do We Create Love?, Cholla Needles Press, 2019: https://www.chollaneedles.com/2019/11/new-book-how-do-we-create-love-by.html? )

MUD

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

When my son digs the pond for his garden,
earth and grass and small branches stain his skin.
The rains come with thunder and brilliance,
the pond fills with water, twig and turtle.
Frogs avoid it, but snakes come to drink,
and the King of Deer leaves its track in the torn grass.
The pond is a great success and water lettuce take root.
Many days he watches an egg become
whole and living and dead. He remembers
many things and keeps neatly printed journals.

2

My wife studies wood,
a shape to root and decadence,
the forms of men in grain.

What color superman when his strength comes from a tree?
What hunger photosynthesis? Carbon dioxide? Radiant energy?

She sees a man go into the tree,
find a sleeping place safe within its folds,
and she draws him a power over rain,
directions for sun-heat and light-fire,
strength over the movement of root.

3

My daughter expresses color in algebraic equations.

4

And my grandson holds his hand out to be cleaned.
Inarticulate, he waves it like a wand,
an incoherence we understand to mean:
“Please, take this mud from my palm.
I only meant to see how it felt,
but now it is a part of me.”

5

Somewhere ash is running,
Building waters,
A great turbulence underground.

6

The importance of life
is always in the remembrance of the dead,

not the hell we fall against,
but the blazing heat of the Laplanders,
the fierce fire that cannot go out in Vinland ,

a prayer to wood and fresh kindling,
the anger needed to warm a soul,

7

how mud bakes itself into brick
somehow

The Gods Talked

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

So the gods talked
and nothing really happened
until a storm from the south
breached the enclave and blackened.

Then the smallest god of all
stood up and spoke his piece:
Nothing will change ever
Cause the people are not geese—

For geese ride together in the sky,
each takes a turn in front,
and they depend on each other
when the wind becomes too blunt.

If people could lead and follow,
a lot of this would be solved—
so my suggestion to all of us
is let the people evolve.

NOWRUS

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

(“New day”: Northern Hemisphere’s Vernal Equinox)
—Michael H. Brownstein

Dawn,
the first day of springshine,
the mirrors polished
rose water as centerpiece,
decorated eggs,
purple hyacinths,
living greens,
lit candles,
honey-soaked baklava—

Smile into the mirror,
happiness.
Smell the water of roses,
fresh air.
Painted eggs,
poetry.
Purple flowers,
beauty.
Living plants,
light.
Candles aflame,
warmth.
Homemade sweets,
love.

Nowrus:
day conquers night,
soon seas of blossoms,
good friends and family,
wonder and awe,
prayer,
one hand in another’s,
the sustainability of life.