playing by the tracks
tracking through the fields
the buffer-zone between
what is real

forts in the reeds
with girls
tacked to the walls

finding new hideouts
new wilds
new ruins

four concrete blocks
four by four
and a foot high
our own little stonehenge

Thoreau only lived
by Walden Pond
for two years, two months
on and off
only a mile from his neighbors
who he visited often

twenty, thirty yards
to one side, ranch houses
that started up in rows
and before reaching
the main street
turned completely urban

to the other side
were tracks,
and in between
woods, ponds, ducks, and fish

a friend of mine lost his leg
hopping trains
he wanted to die
on the spot
, he didn’t

we weren’t afraid of that.
there were the Conrail cops
they might catch us
and take us home
there was the chase
-it was real

towards the thruway
it got wilder
acres of land
wild, full-grown trees
real wood, not sapling wood
there was Standard pond
there was a shark in it

and between
the pond and stonehenge
a tar pit
with white and
bright green frogs

there were crayfish we’d
put them in a bucket
make them fight
, then watch one die

saber-toothed tigers
often died in tar pits
in oil paintings
they would nobly die
the most feared of hunters.
I only missed seeing one
by a few thousand years

playing hide and seek
in the reeds, my sister
found the head of a
covered in blood.
red marker
we played detective
showed it to everyone
then put it back

but they
cut down the reeds,
one of our first wilds
maybe 200 square yards

our first was
at the end
of Milsom
two little ponds
with a path between,
and an island
in the middle
with a plank
for a bridge

from island
to reeds
to Standard pond; sharks
to the tar pit
what is real
where does stonehenge fit in

some of the ruins
are dated 1954
wrecked wrecking million
of square miles of land
for a few years service

over the yard
they’ve built a car bridge
half a mile long
even though the railroad
left several years back
-and I haven’t been there in many

the wind gets up a head of
steam across these
rusted tracks
the shiny ones are
still used, that’s
how you tell
it whistles
past your ears
just like in the movies
doors bang against walls,
the wood creaks
and the rest stands

The architects must have
been so proud
of their texas vision
of the american dream

Reagan planned to protect us
from his evil empire
on these tracks, a
traveling nuclear arsenal
carrying his peacekeepers
through our back yards

ready made ruins
wild in a new way
so now what is real


I don’t think about being a little boy anymore
I don’t think about growing up
I don’t think about railroad tracks, or cops
or finding what’s real.

I know what’s real
I look at my hand
I look at the flap of skin sliced open with a machete
I see the blood, the bone, and the flesh.

I wonder about the barrier
between the inner and outer worlds,
about when it’s violated
how easy it is to look inhuman.
how easy it is to be violated

I think about the instant
one moment whole
the next, unwhole
asunder and spewing,
I think about Rafael

this drunkard, this lech
this man I did not like
I think about him dying
intoxicated and brutish
one second yelling with bravado
the next crying for his wife
pummeled with palo and rock

sticks and stones can do more
than break your bones
they can rip and crush the barrier
between the inner and the outer world
changing the lives
of the murdered
and the murderer

We are so fragile
so changeable, so angry
my hand will heal

I know what’s real.


30 years on
I’ve lost interest
in confabulations
about what’s real
or about national or
personal security

we’d like to think
that collectively,
we can avoid the
rise and reaction of fear

but what do we know?
whether we are cells,
chemically repelling,
perceived intruders
or young men
succumbing to anger,
or a nation self-provoked
to a fevered pitch
it’s who we are
it’s what we do

We tell ourselves,
we tell our children
like some prayer
petition, or lie

It’s a common mistake
thinking intensity
corresponds to

surviving brings
which subside
as the moments pass

it’s amazing
we were willing to ignore
the unimaginable threat
of nukes clattering by
on neglected rails
at the end of our street,
or unfortunate children
falling under trains,

in favor of what?
fearing the Soviets, or
running away from
the cops while
exploring declining
industrial sites

we regularly mistake
the focused mindlessness
of violence for clarity
we think there are
lessons to learn
from luck and chaos

so, what’s to wonder
about the barrier
between the inner and the outer?
it’s a tenth of an inch of water
proteins and lipids .
that’s it

here’s what I know
we’re born, with a little luck
we grow, then age
with a little more luck
we find someone to share
some part of our life
or perhaps we find solitude
we may propagate, we may not
we may create, we may not
we may become ill, or we may not
if so inclined we may find or lose faith
we will suffer. and
we will die.
That’s what’s real.

© 1981-2012 Brian Brown-Cashdollar

Palo: Spanish for (large) stick, log, pole, or even tree.

13 thoughts on “mx

  1. Brian–this is beautiful. Are you quoting from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in the first section(?)–I believe you are. Love the tar pits, the thoughts on Reagan, the natural world reclaiming the ruins/brownlands….And then you tackle mortality in the second so powerfully–the sticks and stones…..also, where it ends (for now), the bigger tools, bigger consequences–so much going on here, and masterfully said.

  2. Quite possibly.the first part is from ’81, I don’t remember. I read Dillard. I’ll see if I can find it. Thanks

    1. …. I think you showed me a part of this once, before you went to Africa, I am remembering the first part so clearly, you must have. I would like to reblog, just because its so amazing, and I know a few writers who would love to see this.

    1. Yes, can’t wait to see where it ends up. What is remarkable about this, though, is your voice maturing across 30 years in the telling. I do not think I have seen this in one poem ever, from anyone. Beautiful and fascinating to read.

      1. All I can say further it this is one hell of a poem, and I love it (you’d think I could say more than that, as I have rarely been at a loss for words, ever).

  3. Perfect, Brian! This is your song of yourself, and it shows. I am going to have to come back here and read this again tomorrow, when I can see it with fresh eyes. A masterpiece.

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