—Michael J. Brownstein, Townsville, N. Queensland, Australia
Everything flat and soiled
the heat vomits across hill and leaf
as if it were a heavy truck
swerving into the lane behind you
without any thought of braking distance,
the composition of gasoline, mechanical reliability.
If there is a god,
this heat is the ultimate in equality—
sinner and man of good deeds,
farmer and truck driver,
carpenter and office worker—
all of us have to breath in this fire at least once a day,
feel the blood boil of flesh and neck.
No rain for months,
even the river’s saliva has dried up;
all of the shade in the world is not enough
to cool the turtles massing in the undergrowth
near hard-baked mud at the edge of the brakes.
What will it take to cool this savage heat?
How much cold water will calm the monster?
When will lungs free themselves of hot pepper air?
Daybreak—almost blue, haze,
the heat a serial killer who cannot sleep.
THE ACT OF BREATHING
—Michael J. Brownstein
When his mind began to blister and skip into missteps during double-dutch games he never played, he found himself deep in breathpause focusing on the soft sound of one hand clapping he could not describe; the comeback line to your-mama’s-so-ugly he could not play; the broken rhinoceros fan, a Zen Koan, he would not ever comprehend. Suddenly the curb at the street was before him, an insurmountable obstacle of Olympic stature, and he forced himself to breathbrake, to take each step as a direction from his head, one foot over the edge, then the other until he was safe, two feet on the street, the curb behind him, walking away without having fallen. He wondered then if he could ever compete in the dozens or race downwind in a flying kite jacket, the lift of the currents of everything taking him to another place of safebreathing. Of course, this was nothing to be concerned about, isn’t that what everyone told him. But then he never asked.
I feel the solstice warmth rise to my face.
I think it is the “hectic red” that generates
the angry sting I sense tints the ridges
—but is not confined there—
along my cheekbones.
(To this day we read of disputes, the
angry verbal brawlers contending “warmly.”)
Who made “the hectic” a noun? Was it Shakespeare?
If I know my who-was-Shakespeare,
this “hectic” first issued from the Globe-swelling scene,
as armored sallies issue
from a fort unstoppably,
compounded of rich indignant aristocratic spleen,
the anger that alters language,
adjective to verb and back,
royal wrath, steaming cold as does dry ice
yet leonine, all lexicon.
spots my cheeks and forehead with ideas:
any maculate conception will do it.
Pangs a man might believe equal to labor pains
paint my face and wring my heart with indignation.
Savage indignation on behalf of those whose names
should rise high by meritorious effort, and cannot rise, or not enough:
many composers of intricate music
—Busoni, Szymanowski, Bax, Scriabin, Roussel, Rubinstein,
Moeran, yes, even Berlioz—
and many many poets—for example
many California Romantics—Nora May French, George Sterling,
Herman Scheffauer, Ina Coolbrith, Clark Ashton Smith—
few of them completely neglected,
yet where are their lofty monuments,
standing pinnacle on pedestal,
lighthouses beaming their own lives or legends
widespread over the broader culture?
(Are they immortal in their obsolescence?)
(May I someday be numbered among them?)
I say this, and yet—when I think of
you, with your facial oval sweetening the air
nervous as sugar burning to caramel in a pan yet serene,
your voice emitting perfume as the olive gives of its oil to the expeller,
then you, letting your delicate ears absorb my words,
never knowing that these were simply that perfume of yours
transmuted to wistful echoes—when I think of you,
and how, after a time, you tired of me and left,
as if renouncing some of your own fragrance:
When I think hotly of this, the hectic most brightly rises,
marks my face with its colors uneven like shot-riddled banners,
then fades. So do all those perfumes fade yet stay, aspiring
by scent alone to leap the five thousand miles
from the you-yourself to your own soft absent skin…
THE FLANNEL OF LOVE
—Michael J. Brownstein
The flannel in life the fabric of love,
Warm as sunshade across lighted lakes,
A halo around stardust, a soul around souls.
There is pleasure in a ripened peach,
The scent of a flowering prairie,
The coolness creating angels in the snow.
The fabric of love the flannel in life,
A happiness beyond seashells,
Beyond beaches, beyond a kiss.
Many thanks to Australian Michael Brownstein and Californian Tom Goff for today’s hot poetry, buzzing around our recent Seed of the Week, Sudden Heat!
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