Ray Brown is a Frenchtown, New Jersey poet whose work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and on-line. He writes poems about the world as it is – people’s hopes and disappointments - in language that will capture your imagination – weave visual images – entice you to relax in the setting – reminisce -challenge you, at times, to think – and will constantly entertain you. His language is crafted with care and skill - with a depth that can be appreciated by those who enjoy the art form, but with a writing style that allows everyone to be a casual reader – sit in their favorite chair - savor the experience, share in the emotion, think about life’s questions raised. You will find poems that are companions that will walk with you throughout the day – be shared easily with family and friends – writing you will agree describes your life and the world you know.
“Ray Brown's poetry is for everyman - and woman. His easily read poems give just enough for the mind to draw an image that can be completed - made into rich imagery when they blend with the reader's own experiences. Ray's words are sometimes assembled in a way that makes a phrase glow with a human warmth that is so intense that the words burn into a place - maybe it's memory - that stirs the soul." Mary McAvoy, author, "Love's Compass."
"Ray Brown, a proud and formidable New Jersey writer whose work captivates readers by regaling them with poignant–but never unnecessarily gilded–stories via a comforting, familiar voice ripe with wisdom." Joe Vallese, editor, “What's Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey”
"Ray has an incredible way of telling a story that keeps you wanting to read more. The unfamiliar twist he adds, always reveals a gentle poignancy that is intensely sincere without being overly sentimental and saccharin." Elijah J. Pringle III poet - Philadelphia, PA.
Welcome to our book of excerpts from:
"I Have His Letters Still" Just turn the page and start reading. After you do, we trust you will want to get your copy, and copies for family and friends.
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Note: pagination, margins and other typesetting features may be different in this excerpt then appear in the book.
Interior photos, cover photography, and wraparound design by Teresa Alessandria De Sapio of TADS-Art & Illustration, (plates pages 2, 84, & 104)
I Have His Letters Still Poetry of Everyday Life by:
Infinity Publishing $ 11.95 ÂŠ Ray Brown 2010
Contents A Letter from Bayonne Poet, Bruno Tarzia, 11/14/89 • g I I Learned to Kill for You • 4 A Stepping Stone Job • 5 A Poet’s Dream • 6 The Mask of Many Faces • 7 I Once Believed it All • 9 Her Fingerprints upon His Heart • 10 Unemployed • 11 At the End of the Day • 15 Birthday Wishes • 17 Black Cat • 18 I Have His Letters Still • 19
II The Lady with Bumps on Her Head • 23 The Measure of a Man • 25 Mums • 28 A Still Small Voice • 31 Talking in Bed • 32 The Cliff on Which You Stand • 33 Laying in Wait • 34 This was our time to be children • 35 Going Down • 38 Birds on Furlough • 39 A Day Aptly Named, Black Friday • 41
III I Have Never Been a Soldier • 47 I’m Tired • 49 On the Other Side of the Bi-Fold Screen • 50 What Progress Has Wrought • 51 Ship of State • 54 Shoveling Snow on Wii • 56 Airline Pilot, Hero of Flight 1549 • 58 The Ball that Got Away • 61 Spaces • 63 The Last Thing He Wanted • 64 The Man Without a Country • 65 Monet • 68 Sancta Sanctorum • 69 Market Street Mission • 71 Itinerant Poet • 75
More Bars than Anyplace Else • 78 Birdhouses • 81 La Ragazza (The Girl) Behind the Tent Flap • 82 IV My Father’s Hands • 87 Mother’s Day • 89 Running with Scissors • 91 An Old Forgotten Book • 92 Sagebrush • 95 The Coach’s Whistle • 96 How to Eat a Cannoli • 97 Regret • 99 The Darkness • 100 The Meadow of My Soul • 101 My Thoughts Escaped Me • 102
V Pins • 105 I only eat on Friday • 107 Walking ATM • 109 Washed Up Attorney • 113 The Poet’s Hands at Twilight • 116 He Died with His Spikes On • 117 When the End is Near • 120 A Window with the Sunshine • 121 Old is Where I Left You, the Last Time We Danced • 122 Writer’s Bump • 123 Your Favorite Piece • 125 A Good Poem • 126 His Head Upon the Pillow • 127 -e-
Index Poems by Title – Alphabetic • 129 Poems by First Line • 132 Acknowledgements • 135 Preview – “The Crèche” – Poems for the Holidays • 137 Follow Ray Brown’s Poetry • 140 About the Poet • 141
I Learned to Kill for You ≈
Just 19, I was ferried through the desert in a copter. We worried that the eternal sands of this enemy’s land would choke the intakes. I had prepared for this, sharpened my shooting eye, learned to clean, assemble and disassemble, mastered the correct hold to choke the air intake of the enemy, to bring death. Honed my physique, fine tuned my body to pain, practiced war games on the video screens, bonded with these comrades with whom I would shortly alight. Now as we step onto the battle field I am taken aback by the immediacy of the enemy’s onslaught. I had worried about how it would feel the first time But found there was no time to feel – or think. Instinct and reflex governed. I simply killed for you.
I Have His Letters Still â‰ˆ When I was young they were kept in a shoebox. Then, in late middle age, in an old leather correspondence case, found at a flea market, kept in the bottom desk drawer. Handwritten in flowing cursive script by original Lewis Waterman pen point dipped in a well the fountain of personal essence the blue flowed with emotion like the waters of life. Soul captured not by Lucifer but by the fiber of the paper crafted in Egypt along the Nile history nested so deeply between the reeds weaved invisibly between the threads of papyrus. The envelope, self-sealed in a meticulous way with wax, monogrammed engraved so beautifully on the back. The Steamboat Savannah stamp hand canceled â€“ May 24, 1944 a distinctive ink which marked its journey as would a traveler his journal from South Carolina to Baptistown, NJ. 19|Page
I treasure this letter, and its envelope. When I pick it up and read I feel him rising through the warmth of his words, grasping my hand… this post saved in the attic of my memories. While I have other poets today their presence I see just fleetingly on the computer screen, my palm touch against the monitor only makes work for me with Windex. Though a friend taught me about the “Save” button I feel as if I have saved nothing, and lost much each time I push/click their correspondence lost – in impersonal set aside. Why time took this treasured means of human discourse there is no answer. Does it have no sense of history permanency? Upon my death, for what will they use my leather satchel? Thankfully -- I have his letters still. 20|Page
Mums ≈ I remember the yellow and gold mums that adorned the mothers’ sweaters in those autumn days of the early 60s when football games were played in the sunlight on a Saturday afternoon. Times were more casual, although the games just as intense. Then they were known as the Delaware Valley Regional High School Terriers. 40 years later, Terriers are not an aggressive enough mascot -so now they call themselves “the dogs”. Then, mums told all there was to say about a mother's pride a sense of loyalty to the hometown how beauty was displayed in simplicity, and wearing flowers at a football game was still touching. They were all there, in the bleachers, the day when Rick Long had his concussion. He got kicked in the head tackling the fullback for South Hunterdon Regional High School on Thanksgiving Day.
Mums - 2 ≈ The mothers gasped, as he lay so motionless on the field. Then applauded as he walked off in a daze to wander the sidelines. The whole group consoled Mrs. Long the sorority of strong women there for their children, not because they particularly liked football. The next morning, a floral arrangement arrived at Fran Long’s home just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. This one had the yellow and gold school colors, but also had the deep crimson and white the pinks and oranges, and the little yellow popcorn mums to fill in between. Fran was touched by this all….. and now – 40 years after Rick's passing she tends her bed of mums on the hillside near her driveway entrance. She has not been back to a football game since. Today new lights from the field, blaze and announce the Friday night games she lives close enough to hear the crowd roar 29|Page
after each good tackle, as they first cheered, then grew eerily silent after Rick’s. She knows some young high school girls undoubtedly still wear the mums since she finds her yellows and golds, missing from the hillside garden on Saturday mornings, plucked at the base by high school boys who stop quickly after school and furtively snips a stem or two on the afternoon before the Friday night game. When she notices, she is not upset. She smiles but a wry little smile. Ricky, she images, would have done the same stopped quickly at someone’s Mum garden clipped a few without asking as he was driving past in his 66 Chevy Impala on the day before the ’67 Thanksgiving game.
A Still Small Voice â‰ˆ
The artistâ€™s melody infused the room. Embraced the audience. A violin, a cello, a flute, a fine tuned piano. I held her hand spoke to her in a still, small voice. Like a bow to the strings of a violin, it resonated. Quiet words fashioned -- whiffed softly through the night air tenderly touch the soul warm the heart. As we left the chamber hall I kept this instrument a subtle timbre now stirs finer words no assertive boisterous clamor, grandiose gesture or performance. No cymbals or drums. A subtle melody of human understanding. I am glad I found this still, small voice.
Shoveling Snow on Wii ≈ School is closed, my son is bored. I have just come in from shoveling snow The driveway, the sidewalk. The walk of the elderly lady next door, who is housebound. He is in his bedroom with the door shut, arguing and yelling at his younger brother. When I was thirteen I had a paper route each morning before school. Walked or rode my bike threw the papers toward each porch. Took pride in perfecting my throw to where I was accurate to a pinpoint eighth of an inch. Eventually built a stamina, threw effortlessly and efficiently -to avoid tipping over the milkman’s bottle. On days of snowstorms I’d run up to the porch, hand the papers to a sleepy audience, hope I’d be asked if school had been cancelled and if I had time to shovel the walk.
Shoveling Snow on Wii - 2 ≈
The route done, I ran home, grabbed the shovel I had purchased with my own snow shoveling earnings and spent the morning shoveling walks – and the porch of the house bound lady next door for free. In the warmth of my inner hallway I shook the snow off my daydream opened the bedroom door. My son has the Wii Remote Classic Controller in his hands. On the screen are two figures the Mii avatars of my boys each little twit shoveling furiously, piling scoop upon scoop of snow on the heap as the weight meter chronicled their efforts. Since when do they have snow shoveling on Wii?
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Market Street Mission ≈ Mike died overnight at the Market Street Mission. To be more precise, they stuck a shiv somewhere into the seven true ribs, costae verae, probably between rib 3 and 4. Quietly his warm red blood spilled across the cold floor – through the thin mattress which he had returned to each night for the last week. A gray wool blanket matted frozen to his chest when Sam tried to awake him that morning. No one looked too hard for a murderer – 70 men had come and gone that evening and morning and each was capable of this act when the spirits moved them. The police were casual for the same reason. Perfunctory. 70 suspects and 70 witnesses each with the same address: This place – the Market Street Mission – yet no place. None of them were in, literally and figuratively. Even the innocent ones weren’t so innocent. Few would be able to identify their first-name-only fellow travelers 71|Page
despite the fact they shared the same haunts, day and night, never really seeing each other. As the medical examiner’s team lifted Mike onto the gurney and loaded him into the black bag something dropped from his clinched fist which the officers should have discovered - if they cared to look. Last night, as with every evening, Mike slept clutching his Marworth medallion just as he clutched his crucifix each evening as a young boy. “Lord, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change – The courage to change the things I canand the wisdom to know the difference”, read the inscription. You see, no one freely chooses death when life and hope are an option. Mike was a five-timer – Carrier, Alina Lodge, Caron and Marworth twice. – The last time he got kicked out for wrapping himself in bandages as would a sophomore in a college joke.
Market Street Mission – 3 ≈ An airline pilot, he found the thread that would weave his death in the Air Force in Afghanistan, where, while burning off a field of mature Poppies the aroma triggered a hidden gene he could not control – later fed by the morphine administered to get him past the shrapnel. Tonight his mother would cry again – but not over today’s death. No one knew Mike’s last name and with his last known address only: “Market Street Mission”, they could not call her. She had cried over his death a thousand times already, the living passing away that took him. She cried until the tears ran dry – and then she cried again. A month later the Sergeant would find the fingerprint card tossed aside in a stack of papers. When submitted, it marked a hit in the Department of Defense data base. Someone notified his mother and dispatched a proper escort with his Purple Heart, which he had neglected to pick up, or tell anyone about. The examiner’s attendant placed the Medallion back in his hand and folded the fingers tightly.
With a little luck the coin would be overlooked and he would be buried with it in the potter’s field. When they exhumed the body at his mother’s request her purple heart would shatter yet again when the undertaker handed her the medallion of hope Mike carried, on the evening when all hope was finally snuffed out. At 1 pm that afternoon Mr. KT awoke in the park 4 blocks away. He casually ignored the blood on his hands. He had seen it before, probably from scrounging around the dumpster in back of a restaurant. He stumbled to the water fountain, took a drink and began to scrub blood off his hands and from his Marworth Medallion which he had slept holding last night. You see, no one freely chooses murder when life and hope are an option. When finished, he wondered what was for dinner that evening at the Market Street Mission. ≈
Running with Scissors â‰ˆ
I was tempted the other day, to run with scissors, just to prove to my mother that I could do it safely. Though I am 35 and she has been gone 10 years I still cannot do it. I fear that as she warned, I would trip and pierce my heart or gouge my eye out. Worst yet, I could fall and drive it into the dirt and dull its sharpened edges much to my motherâ€™s irritation. A priest had warned me once of being with a girl unless I was married. When I made young love the first time I thought for sure I would die. I have made love many times since. But I still cannot run with scissors.
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How to Eat a Cannoli ≈
Cannoli won second place for the dessert with the worst eating design second only to a hot dipped, thin-coated, chocolate covered soft vanilla ice cream cone on an August summer’s day. I understand why they have to see through both ends of the shell when filling it up but why would anyone design a dessert which, when you bite on one end, you lose 25% of the equivalent of the dessert out the other? Now a Hot Dog. There’s a functional cylindrical type food. The dog tucked cozily in the bun. When you chew on one end you do not loose mustard, relish and onions out the other. Compare that to a Big Mac. Bite at any one point and you have drippings drama around all of the edges. The cannoli’s problem would be almost tolerable if you were losing just mayonnaise, ketchup or mustard or that messy combination of goo that soothes your hamburger taste buds.
But cannoli filling is Italian health food the whole cow’s milk ricotta cheese dark milk chocolate chips (and whatever else is in there) the sweet nectar of life. I ate dinner once with an American who thought he’d solve the problem with a knife and a fork attempting to daintily cut through the shell in order to pick up pieces. Cutting through a cannoli shell! “gat outa here”! If they wanted you to break the shells apart they would have crushed them up for you and sprinkled them on top of the filling and served them to you with a plastic spoon in one of those paper cups for pansies. There is only one way to eat cannoli. Bite on one end and as far as the other end goes “Fuhgeddaboudit…”
I only eat on Fridays ≈ 50,000 people die of hunger each day. A child, every 5 seconds.
Every 5 seconds, as the world devours a McDonald’s french fry starvation consumes a child. The path to this destination of death – contorted. At first, pains of hunger turn to numbness then tissue thin skin clings to the skeleton, like a balloon out of air falls amongst the netting on the circus floor below the high wire of life…. In Costa Rica, 53 years old, he trudges for the 40th consecutive year, the 14,600th consecutive day to the refuse dump where he fights with the other human scavengers – and the rats for rotten, left over morsels to sustain his family. When the garbage truck arrives, a rush like lemmings or vermin avoiding the exterminator to be the first - push to the front when the dump body releases rotting, days old food. Sheltered in a tin covered lean-to, an anxious family awaits having returned from a difficult walk to the stream below - where people 107|Page
bathe, drink, urinate, defecate and catch amoebic dysentery. Upon his return, his pickings, food scraps parceled out among family members each - with their own day of the week to eat. In the intervening days, when the growls pull on the heartstrings of a mother when the cries can no longer be tolerated she mixes clay with salt and water a paste more suitable for a child’s nursery school project, and bakes dirt pies so the stomachs of her children feel full. On the beach at the resort with the white colored sand, the crystal blue waters, under the green trimmed cabana the ocean waves lullaby my afternoon’s end. I invite an emaciated urchin to share half a local unfinished sandwich, one the restaurant’s garbage purveyor can do without. I offer it up encourage this thin replica of a human child to pick it from the plate tears from the child’s eyes at first - I thought appreciation but when he still resisted, my inquiry answered: “This is Thursday, and I only get to eat on Friday… Friday is my day to eat…..” 108|Page
A Window with the Sunshine I want to sit in a window with the sunshine. When I grow old, that’s all I want – A restaurant window in the sunshine. My friend, the cherished actor had his choice of any seat his fame desired. The maître d’ prepared a quiet table in the corner. Privacy from peering eyes and boisterous strangers. But for all his years in the limelight, He sought only one thing – A window in the sunshine. More than fresh air – the generous rays of warmth envelope a personality, etch calm in body and soul. Solace in elder years. I harkened back to my younger days. A quiet table in a dark corner, dim lights, comforted and provided security for me and the one I loved. And then in middle years, a table twice removed, assuaged my ego. Assured me of my importance. Sheltered me from the very fame I sought. And now….and now…. As the tide of life recedes, I want to sit in a window with the sunshine.
"I Have His Letters Still" today
The Poetry of Everyday Life
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Read more of Ray Brownâ€™s poetry at: The Poetry of Ray Brown http://raybrown.wordpress.com