Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Café is honored to present the work of poets from around the world. This week, we feature the poetry of Michael Brownstein.
Michael H. Brownstein's latest volumes of poetry, A Slipknot Into Somewhere Else: A Poet's Journey to the Borderlands of Dementia (2018) and How Do We Create Love? (2019), were published by Cholla Needles Press.
We reached out to Michael to ask him about his influences and inspirations.
AN: How did you come to poetry?
MB: You’re on the roof of your old house, the roof is in serious disrepair, but you walk on it as if you’re on a boardwalk. A squirrel falls through where you just stood; what is left to do but go to all fours, tread carefully until you’re on safe ground, call the roofers (you can’t fix this), and write a poem.
You’re walking across a great field, firecrackers exploding. You swat away at dozens of mosquitoes. Near where you teach, the security guard tackles you and points out a sniper who has been shooting at you as you crossed. There is nothing else to do but conduct a poetry workshop in your algebra class.
You go camping, and a rattlesnake crawls into your sleeping bag. Prayer and poetry—they really do go together.
On and on. Take a break. Write a poem.
That's how I came to write poetry.
AN: What do you hope people will come away with from reading your work?
MB: I hope they find an image or idea they can take away from my work—a connection, if you will. The idea of poetry, in my mind, is to express a thought in an interesting and, hopefully, original way and then help the reader create their own narrative from the experience of reading the poem.
This is simply a love poem to my wife of more than three decades. When you are in love, everything is a rainbow, soft skin, clear weather, and a great amount of glory.
You warm her head against your chest,
her hair a comfortable home,
her breath your breath,
her skin your skin,
and your hands slip to the small of her back,
Your hug her hug.
Curdle me into your cottage cheese cuddle.
Let the Montserrat trade wind blow across us.
Color me day break and brilliance lit.
Sleep dissipates into the glory of flags
and a great calm of salt water
as if the sea of life harvested this touch,
not dry skin, but moist,
not hard skin, but easy,
not sharp and angular, but strong and curved
as if the cigarette you gave up long ago
remained in your hand all of this time
and you have the ability
to take one long drag
filling in all of the spaces
within the pages of a coloring book
bright with the colors of rainbow.
When I was taking a plant across the nation to my son because he needed this particular plant for research (nothing to do with the poem), my wife and I stopped along the way and took a long and hot detour across the badlands of South Dakota, bad roads, and even worse highways to the Sioux Reservation (Pine Ridge) on the far corner of the map directly next to the border of Nebraska. We visited it for a few hours, met a woman who was one of the leaders, got involved, and the next thing you knew, we were visiting a town called White Clay in Nebraska directly across the boundary of the reservation, a place of great evil to us—lonely and forlorn—where greed ruled and humanity suffered gravely. We worked with the women for many years afterward from our hometown. It was from this experience this poem came to be. "Hush" was a word I kept thinking about when I wanted to drown out the destruction brought upon a community by letting so much terribleness happen to a people all in the name of getting richer and richer and even richer. I understand the town no longer exists as it did when we were there a few years back, but there still remains a number of problems in Pine Ridge, including gross poverty, little opportunity, too many suicides, and let us never forget the young women who go out on an errand and are never seen again.
A Pause In the Way We Wish to Kiss
In the vernacular of Native
Hush can be snow or rain,
screams for help or joy,
the sound friction makes
across hair or blood scars,
a silence as deep as canyons
or as loud as an echo across
tundra and unsteady drifts,
earth moving away, towards,
imploding, exploding, gone.
In the vernacular of what was
Hush can be me holding on.
We also own a very old house--more than a hundred years old--very well-built, but in need of work, and I am learning how to do things I never thought I would ever do. Even though the poem goes in a variety of directions, from positive to negative and back to negative, I have discovered how much I enjoy working with my hands. Beyond writing, putting up a wall, installing a new plumbing system, rewiring a light to make it work again, on and on and on have brought me fantastic pleasure.
Yes, I love my dogs and, yes, I love my old house and, yes, the mixing of imagery with the reality of living is why I wrote this poem. I guess you can see it as a glass half empty, but me—I think there is still enough water in it to quench my thirst.
Life Is Sometimes a Leaky Pipe
Between plumbing issues
and so many dogs I cannot breathe,
do you not wonder what will happen next?
Is the garage down the alley on fire?
Did the great mastiff find its way home?
Can the southerly wind bring snow?
There is much to consider
and too much to forget
and still not enough to manage everything.
One night leads into another
one cloud merges in with its twin
one harmony of waves clashing with the beach
Another drop of water into the bucket.
Another shut off valve refusing to do its work.
This is from the hearth of the home,
the bucket near the front door full of paper,
the bark of a dog whispering to another.
Flapper Press Poetry Café.
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