Kurt Brown founded the Aspen Writers' Conference, and Writers’ Conferences & Centers. He is the author of six chapbooks and six full-length collections of poetry, including his newest Time-Bound, due out from Tiger Bark Press in 2013. He is currently an editor for the online journal MEAD: The Magazine of Literature and Libations and has edited ten anthologies of poetry, including his newest (with Harold Schechter) Killer Verse: Poems about Murder and Mayhem. His memoir, Lost Sheep: A Portrait of Aspen in the 70s, is scheduled for publication by Conundrum Press in 2012. He taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
Fog Engulfs the Coast
Fog engulfs the coast and the waves the whole
landscape shifts from translucent to opaque like a window
that’s been breathed on traffic threads the continent’s edge
in a luminous circle first ascending then descending
from Canada to Mexico all night without end
you can see it from the Space Station one raveled wall of flame
the wars are much closer you can watch them on TV
any day in full-color and HD all the highlights made clear
the bombed market the maimed boy the old man
stunned in his wrinkles mouth half open as if to speak
though he says nothing and two of his teeth are missing
just today they found out that if you take the tip of a knife
and gouge one of the bubbles in Siberian ice it will let go
a small gasp of methane which will strangle the earth
if enough of the gas stored there is released
once the ice melts and the bubbles erupt like infected sores
everything depends on perspective and the closer you look
the worse it gets which is why some scientists
have contemplated terraforming Mars though this might take
centuries and by that time the old man will have died
and all his family and the families they might have had
from space earth itself looks like one of those bubbles
stunningly blue and streaked with cloud you can see it
in the photographs but not the maimed boy the tip
of the knife only distance can be that cruel while the planet
floats in blackness at absolute zero and flames
along the coast make a chain of fire from Canada to Mexico
but in the market now cleaned and ready for business
a woman weighs a pomegranate in her hand one ear
cocked to the vendors’ incessant cries one for the sound
of gunfire in the distance all day all night without end
Exploration in a Field of Flowers
That summer I scoured Rome, alone with myself
the hot streets, the empty church where I placed a coin
into a machine that made spotlights shine
against gold paintings five hundred years old.
When the nuns began to sing, their reedy voices
vibrating in harmony, the same words
over and over, a kind of chant
while one of them played an electric piano
I sat in back, probably against their wishes
for they couldn’t have known I was there
having slipped in at the stroke of noon before one of them
floated past to shut the enormous, ornate doors.
The light outside was so intense, they could have been burning a heretic.
Later I walked along the Tiber, watched as a young man
caught a fat fish he hauled up onto the bank
so his friend could take a picture before they let it go.
That evening the sky turned pale as a melon
and from somewhere down the hill accordion music
burst forth as lanterns rocked in a slight breeze.
Is that what we call happiness? For the moment, perhaps
though my feet hurt from trudging over the bones
of six thousand martyrs, and my eyes burned
from viewing those ancient stones, moldering but upright,
as the brusque Italians went about their business
crossing and re-crossing, like trembling spirits,
a square they call the field of flowers.
Some people are ready to believe anything,
the crazier the better, as if the farther we drift
from fact, the truer a thing might seem. There are those
who believe that human beings can explode
into flame without explanation, though explanations
for spontaneous human combustion have been
numerous but unconfirmed, beginning in the Middle Ages.
Or the fact that people all over the planet claim they
have been abducted by aliens and taken aboard spaceships
where experiments were conducted on their bodies
with strange instruments, the kind of mass
delusion we know is possible, even probable, once
numbers of people believe in something strongly enough.
The people of Salem named “Honor” and “Faith”
and “Goody” believed that their neighbors were demons
capable of flying and causing warts to appear on the bodies
of others, even after the courts deemed such testimony
to be based on “spectral evidence,” as unreliable as dreams.
That didn’t keep them from hanging young women
and piling stones on others until they were pressed to death.
I wonder about faith, and the human brain,
whether actual aliens or the ability to believe in them
is more wonderful, and how that cult in California
thought a spaceship parked on the other side of the moon
would whisk them away once the comet, Hale-Bopp
burnt across the sky signaling the hour of their departure.
They committed suicide en masse by swilling poison,
then lay back in their bunks to await their redeemers.
We may laugh, though people have committed
suicide over less, like that young student who hung
himself because his girlfriend left him and he believed
he would always feel as bad as he did at that moment—
begging the question, what’s stranger: the world,
or what we believe about it? That young boy believed in love
more than his own life which is a reality no one can deny,
though love won’t save us, whether we believe in it or not.