the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2010



Marion Brown

Babel Terracotta

"Babel" Terracotta
Sculpture by Elisabeth Marsh


Forest Succession

Woman entering trees, you thread your way
as if you know a way, leaving sunny
flowers, yellow coreopsis, behind. Barbs
grab your clothes. The shade thickens. A cage
of trunks captures you as nakedly as age.
Quasi-arboreal, you become a bright
stripe in a puzzle of dark and light. A squirrel
has dropped husks on a rock where you rest.

Needles creak underfoot and tree trunks
crumble as forest gorges on green. Ruin,
neither poor nor petty, breathes; wet wood
sprouts hooded, waxy pipes. Caught in a gap
of sunshine, you stretch like a leaf for light.
Oak and hemlock rising seize slivers of sky




I Remember Moses

I remember Moses and Mohammed,
especially Mohammed when he kept the door,
his eyes dark as his eyebrows, his nose
as fine as the knife pleat of his trousers,
a pale and beautiful man who worked
the basement, sometimes the lobby;
my husband wearing a white coat,
my hands-in-her-pockets girl,
my speak-toangers boy,
and the prophets
in that tower
in that time.


And why is the world

                                                            so many,
and my decor so single? Bugs, chairs,
or feathers, garbage cans, motes alive
in bright air, multi-hued catalogues
for Christmas. Serials served in sit-com
or bowl, one "I do" after another,
and me, alone, in an attic at home,
two children aloft in plane, ship or tree
who don't hang, anymore, on my say.

Not even Suleiman the Magnificent of me,
I have one device—bind a band
round my head to create the illusion and
conjure the furniture of my ultimate sway.



Not Blue

Leaf buds burst and everything red
out the window.

Vellum cups of dogwood spill invitation,
blow me away—

clean gone. Hey to handsprings
and unbuttonings,

whirligigs and weed wheels. New-clad
trees parade their colors.

Like going to a party, crepe paper streamers,
fronds uncurl.

Roll a tart green on your tongue and make
your lips pucker.

Spring, and I'm So Long.


What Time Is Night

How good to lie in bed
and wait for nothing
to settle on my chest,
nuzzling in darkness

every day's end.
I put on everyday,
the sweatshirt and
the holes. Stripping

them for night's
embrace, I muffle
my face in its hug.
Swaddled, I inhale

a whole night.
I have no crayon
to scribble its walls
and leave no mark.


Early morning at the
hospital, I report
precise names and dates,
pronouncing, until

narcotic in my vein
worms away to nothing,
as easy as something.
Sleep goes on

and on without
any clock to tell it
what time,
what time.


Turns in the Kitchen


My husband reveres a
recipe, his religion
never to cheat me
of condiment or herb.
With the cooking torah
open, he will rip off
his apron if rice wine
is missing and dash to
the store. A tasty dish
is lawful or nothing,
ten commandments obeyed,
when he feeds me.


For my good eater
I spirit mace
from the spice rack
when nutmeg's not there,
the flash of cress
for cilantro: yes,
fantasy, and I the magus
who improvises a carrot,
pulls rabbit stew out of a hat,
to his amazement
and mine.

(Main Street Rag)


The Morning After Summer

Leaves on the shagbark hickory flip
a beauty-queen wave. Eternal
September is here. The calendar

resigns its torn-off days. Leaves
turn and don't turn back.
Exfoliating, the tree inclines

its face to antiseptic air, sober
and bright. Rebirth chills me.
I walk by Lake Champlain, dark

as morning coffee, my mouth bitter.
You remain, where leaves
do not blow and sound never.



February Angle

Blue snow melts faster
than daylight snow,
days lengthening now
and growing shorter.

I watch blue snow
through my window,
between curtains,
with lights on in the room.

Birthday children raced
its length three-legged,
up and down. Those
children stand alone,

but the hill falls away
behind the house where
it was. You never know
what you will find

how steep it will go.


Picture My Skeleton

At my back, or near,
a friend whispered,
"Backbone." What is it but

in a
or no,

to hold me up,

and touch each before
my ribs wrap around
like empty fingers;

or white lights strung between boathouses on a lake.


Family Practitioner

He laid his hand on birth pangs, heart
ache or fever in upright island houses
with wide clapboards. Clipped junipers,
stationed each side of the door, guarded

children. While he percussed and listened,
he did not want his child touching
infection. Sterile cotton bloomed
with alcohol. He soaped up his straight

fingers before he strode back down
the walk that divided a lawn into right
and wrong and checked on his daughter.

Her work cleaner, she waited in the car
with the radio on and memorized songs,
making house calls like her brother before.


Off Your Feet

A mountain slaps you. No more feet—
undertow sucks away the ground
and systole and diastole go under.
No arm holds your hard tumble.
(Deliver yourself from salt.)

Loss clogs your brain.
Distended nostrils and mouth,
you learn a lesson in drowning,
return to your first world

that you must burst
while breakers flip you over and over,
drive your shoulder sharp into sand,
until only lungs
bolt for the blue,
only the sky in your chest
buoys you back to hot sun,
knows which way is up,
makes you bite colorless air
and swallow.

How often, body, I hold you
at arm's length and observe
your naked struggle.
In time, you will find your element.


Marion Brown, who lives with her husband in Yonkers, New York, writes reviews as well as poems that have appeared in Barrow Street, DIAGRAM, Big City Lit, The Same, Main Street Rag, Sotto Voce, Pinyon, and Kestrel. She earned a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, taught expository writing, and worked on Wall Street.



Poetry Feature