Michael H. Brownstein has appeared in The Café Review, American Letters and Commentary,
Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, After Hours, Free Lunch, Meridian
Anthology of Contemporary Poetry
, The Pacific Review and others. In addition, he has eight
poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987), Poems from the
Body Bag
(Ommation Press, 1988), A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004) and What Stone Is
(Fractal Edge Press, 2005).

Carneades of the Word

'And how many men I have seen in my time made stupid by rash
avidity for learning! Carneades became so mad about it that he had
no time left to take care of his hair and nails.
Michel de Montaigne'
"Of the Education of Children," 1588

Carneades of the shadow.
Carneades of the whisper.
Carneades who could not blink his eyes following letters across a page.
It is good to know prosperity.
It is good to have loyal servants.
Carneades held books close and stubborn
As if his greatest need was to understand the inside of a stone,
The workings of a six inch tooth washed up on the shore,
The breathing heart of the baby harp seal panting heavily away from others.
Carneades owned all of the books--
Alexander be damned--
His eyes, his ears, his huge sense of smell, unruly hair, broken fingernails--
He read past the moon hour, past the rising of the sun, past the closing of the baths,
Left important matters to his servants
And his servants lived well.
Carneades sits on the soft pillows in the corner of his library,
His lamp bright,
His glasses thick and bulky,
His hair unkempt and ragged,
His fingernails long enough to get in the way of turning a page.
Carneades reads.

The Cow Witch

Have you seen the Cow Witch?
The one who seeks berries and tombs,
A rose blackened by water
Hard by the blossom tree?
Tent caterpillars wrangle in the sun's coils.
There are the crows; there are the ravens.
A horse runs as fast as a horse.
The Cow Witch knows these powers.

Search for me by the Crypt of St. Augustine.
I have made my home there.
Early morning I find the softening bark of cassia,
River water, fresh fish, garden snails in the dew.
Wait for the sun to reach its falling.
I will be there near the heavy door,
The fallen rock and cured sandalwood,
Kneeling in the weed and thyme, singing.

Near St. Louis gold grows in the clover.
The Tree Men of Ashanti yearn for its fragrance
And somewhere not near yet not far away
Green shoots find doors through softer soil.
St. George's herb roots deep within root,
Juno's tears flower into pigeon wood.
Here comes the vine that lives to strangle.
Life and decay hold each other's hand.

The Cow Witch is an expert in hiding.
She knows large cities hold more than sewage.
She understands her neighbors by name:
Naked Lady, the Borrowers, Porch Sitter,
The Corn Men, the Ice Cream Family.
She knows them all by face and figure,
Walk and gesture, voice and violation.

My song knows only elf leaf and ivy.
I pluck the strings of my kora,
Beat the slotted drum, play the thumb piano.
I own the harp tied between the giant oaks.
You must come after the dew settles.
I do not sing at night or morning,
The time for rest and meditation.
Songs are not work like bridges, like alleys.

The Cow Witch will come when she is ready
Like the calf, like the bridge over the valley,
The Garden of the Sun and Moon,
Like an empty place ahead.
Heather dries in the light, seed swings to earth,
Wind tangles music from my harp,
And the farmer's wife wakes, stretches,
Calls on the bloom that may be spring.

A Debt to Water

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.


Pliable is the wood that bends my mother
Walnut, pine, a strength in oak,
Old as weak rooted redwood,
Young as a new spring leaf.
She is small and straight,
Wears her legs well and her hips
Still keep a beat. Look to the east
When the sun rises and you will see her,
Stretching, one foot before the other,
Thinking of a dance and a rhyme.
When the sunlight enters her room,
She is showered and dressed,
The capable blossom of an apple tree.

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