Another one where I finished the idea last year and I had enough space to clean up some of the language. Hopefully, making some of it less vague and precise.



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

expeditions, finding
new hideouts
new wilds
new ruins

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

60 feet to one side
gridded aspirational
ranch and cape homes
that before William (St.)
turned Buffalo humble,
industrial vernacular

to the other
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
put them in a bucket
make them fight
watch one die

saber-toothed tigers
often died in tar pits
in oil paintings
their noble struggle
the most feared of hunters.
          I only missed seeing one
by a few thousand years

playing hide and seek
in the reeds,
the head of a baby
blood soaked
in red marker
we played detective
showed it to everyone
then put it back

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

our first was
at the end
of Milsom
two little ponds
with a path between,
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
wrecking million
of square miles of land
for twenty years service

over the yard
they’ve built a car bridge
    half a mile long
even though the railroad
left several years back

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
the rest crumbles

The architects must have
been so proud
    their Texas vision
of the American dream

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

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


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

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

I wonder about the barrier
between the inner and outer,
about when it’s violated
how easy it is to look inhuman.
one moment whole,
then unwhole
asunder and spewing,

I think about Rafael
this drunkard, this lech
this man I did not like
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 what separates
a clear delineation
between the murdered
and murderer

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
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 recite for ourselves,
we share with our children
a hopeful prayer
a wishful lie

we tell our offspring
our nature is not
our nature

It’s a common mistake
thinking intensity
corresponds to

surviving brings
which subside
as danger passes

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 mostly water
proteins and lipids.

here’s what I know now:
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.

© 1981-2013 Brian Brown-Cashdollar

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

**From somewhere in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, © 1974


5 thoughts on “mx

  1. Ok, first–I love the tigers, always have. Well, I love all of this and you know it. You keep making this tighter and tighter. I remember sitting at my sister’s dining room table with you, critiquing the first part of this, 20 frigging years ago, tightening up the pinup portion. I am going to come back to this and read it again, about 20 more times at least. Please, please get this published somewhere.

  2. shoud have made separate posts – each is a book of poetry – crammed with goodies – loved the first the most even though our politics appear to oppose, but it is a grand and bumpy polemic ride

  3. Thanks Sue. Thanks Paul. The thing that stuck me in reworking it recently is how different childhood is today. mx1 was started when I was 16 and based on what we were doing when we were 7-9 years old. And I don’t think our play was out of the ordinary. I couldn’t imagine kids having the same experience now without ending up in family court or spending quality time with CPS.

    1. Brian, you have a point there. I just now started allowing my 13-year-old to walk along the creek without me. I was playing there by myself, or with Laurie & Jeff, from the time I was seven.

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