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.

How do we create love?

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?, Cho;lla Needles Press, 2019: https://www.chollaneedles.com/2019/11/new-book-how-do-we-create-love-by.html? )

A TRIBUTE TO MARY OLIVER

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

MARY OLIVER (1935-2019)

–who wrote my favorite volume of poetry, “The Leaf and the Cloud”.

She will always be the onomatopoeia of flowers,
the metaphor of fourteen-year old locusts and the old oak branch,
an alliteration of dogs, unleashed, exploring
swamp, puddle, briar patch, bramble of leaf, sieve of earth:

Can you not see her in black snake
dipping herself into black pond too early for dawn?
In the imprint of bent clover wet with dew?
Near the stone of the slug where garden snail glistens?
In the soft petals of the apple tree painting both tree and earth?

Ants and thorns, love and stars, moon and a litter of light across water,
fox and her teeth, wolf and her courage, spider and her thick strands of silk.

MARY OLIVER (1935-2019)

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

–who wrote my favorite volume of poetry, “The Leaf and the Cloud”.

She will always be the onomatopoeia of flowers,
the metaphor of fourteen-year old locusts and the old oak branch,
an alliteration of dogs, unleashed, exploring
swamp, puddle, briar patch, bramble of leaf, sieve of earth:

Can you not see her in black snake
dipping herself into black pond too early for dawn?
In the imprint of bent clover wet with dew?
Near the stone of the slug where garden snail glistens?
In the soft petals of the apple tree painting both tree and earth?

Ants and thorns, love and stars, moon and a litter of light across water,
fox and her teeth, wolf and her courage, spider and her thick strands of silk.

Published in Medusa’s Kitchen:
http://medusaskitchen.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-onomatopoeia-of-flowers.html

This is the army marching through Mexico to attack us. Tell Dump Truck Trump there is no need to sleep with the lights on.

Compiled by M. Lapin and Michael H. Brownstein

New York Times: More than 5,000 active-duty military troops will deploy to the southern border by the end of this week, Defense Department officials said on Monday, an escalation of a midterm election show of force against a caraan off Central American migrants that President Trump has characterized as an “invasion of our country.”

Stars and Stripes: President Donald Trump late Wednesday told reporters that he intends to send 10,000 to 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, indicating that as many as 6,000 additional troops could be notified to prepare to deploy.

President Trump:  if the immigrants who are marching to the U.S. border throw rocks at our troops they will be shot.

WE WEAVED A BOW TIE ACROSS THE STORM

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

the Aborigine sky
bright grey blue
Choctaw

a lurching of grasshoppers
deep in the weed
the shriek of crickets

didjeridu
bull-roarer
gum-leaf

peepers in the grass,
the large hand of a child
thick as brown dessert air

clapsticks
kora
karimba bali

First published in Outlaw Poetry:
https://outlawpoetry.com/2017/four-poems-by-michael-h-brownstein/

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 poetrysuperhighway.com

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:

CARBONATED WATER
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
CITRIC ACID
SODIUM CITRATE
MALIC ACID
SODIUM BENZOATE (PRESERVATIVE)
ASPARTAME
NATURAL FLAVORS
ACESULFAME POTASSIUM
CARAMEL COLOR

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
(http://www.dpsgproductfacts.com/product/CANADA_DRY_GINGER_ALE_TEN_20): 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: http://projectagentorange.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=127.msg3803#msg3803 and I know about sodium benzoate: http://projectagentorange.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=2.msg3615#msg3615 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, http://www.astro.sunysb.edu/tracy/whatis.html)

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 http://www.janethull.com/newsletter/1008/warning_phenylketonurics.php, 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.

http://foodfreedomgroup.com/2013/03/11/mistake-canada-dry-ten/

A Debt to Water

A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein 

The well of depression on my right,
so deep and sordid,
smells beautiful.
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.