The Wastrel
(or: Poetics for Professor Bryson)

I sit in my silvered paradise
badgering somehow words
upon paper, though just as blind
Homer would have been unable to see Troy
even if he’d had the gift of sight
the Frostian fork is never in a wood, now,
, in this century,
it’s more like an interchange on I 95,
with an untold thousand different directions
and no way of choosing, no road maps
to tell you where to turn,
where to get off,
no Fodor’s guide to life’s highways
telling all the best places to eat
or sleep,
or fuck,
or raise a family, so we muck about a bit,
testing the muddy waters for a current,
no matter how stagnant.
Hemingway’s raw fish
were never caught in
waters brackish such as these.
Who would eat them, even if there were fish to be caught,
they would be shit eating bottom dwellers,
sluggish cats, eliotless cats,
the kind you let swim in a clean tank for weeks
before eating, to let them run clean
and clear their systems.
Nothing noble about calm water
in the swamps. The chiggers field day,
cynics, critics all, chafing to bite in,
anxious for the augered symbols of the blood.
Blood words upon paper,
a pint here, a pint there.
Ah, Lyman, you knew best after all,
that poetry was poetry,
but talk was talk. Yet I suppose
that, across the Atlantic, all your
peers stayed on, forgotten people,
liberators in memory only,
and lost only to those awkward romantics
who found anything from the continent
unique, and qualified
for the highest praise.
(continued; no stanza break) (“The Wastrel” p.2) You who drove, and taught tenente
the meaning of balls,
ran with the bull necked ignorance
of poverty and survived unblemished,
stronger for the experience.
We long for the courage that will enable us
to carry on, not as those
ignoble knights of verbal yore,
but in the fashion of their king,
the quiet one.
But they are blinded and lost
like your child, in the flood,
set adrift by another mother than their own.
You were bound for better things.
Did you teach the ignorant and illiterate
to read your poems? I think not;
I admire your purity. Your rescue work
went far beyond sand bags filled
levee side amid the torrential tide
of water and desperate humanity,
beyond the ambulances driven in the war,
the panels moderated for the national good
and television,
bastard of industries,
purveyor of mediocrity,
was lucky enough to benefit at your hand.
A poem must not lose its sense of poetry
and flow,
its ability to grab the listener
or beguile an audience things you taught
in your earliest work, just as you taught
others other things later in life;
all the things you taught
were justified in their existence
through their rightness, through
their exemplification of the task at hand,
solution in their definition.
Hammering a hand held typer until one,
creating a personal chaos from
the relative order of disorder,
and I pursue your superhighway,
a well traveled but little understood
interstate of the mind.
(continued; no stanza break) (“The Wastrel” p.3) It is less traveled nowadays
and weary pilgrims find
no rest in better things to come,
whose blindness will not hold
the promised security of old age
and pensioner’s income,
that tomorrow will not bring a resurgence
of things esthetic.
Fascist thought has always been exclusive of originality,
urging instead a sort of interactive
yet dystrophic resonance where, all things ranked
in rows, file upon file, like the tongs of a pitch
fork in the hands of an instrumental technician
can tune everyone properly, yet still the discordant
note will have its say, and sing
out that these efforts are in vain
when dealing with
the differences that we all have,
one from another, men and women,
fucker and fuckee,
giver up of soul pieces
and bearer of the race,
each brilliantly dissimilar,
like the furrowed levels of eon aged rock
revealed in only yesterday’s raiment of brightness
along the canyon walls;
we all shall have our niche and couer privee
needing not, under any law,
to share these thoughts with any save
those with whom we wish to share.
We give up our weathered detritus and reveal
fresh faces to the passersby who wonder
with fresh faced awe
at the forces that framed our personalities,
our susceptible rock faces, furrowed and strong,
furrowed even as Ozymandias’ visage,
uncovered in the desert by Schliemann’s team
was furrowed, etched by time
and dry desert winds.
The desert has always done thus;
it turned a simple beggar into ekristos
and sent a systemic chill throughout the pagans
who defiled her cleanliness of spirit.
It changed a British voyageur into a lion
rampant in white sheets
and filigree, praising Mohammed
and serving the sands bloody breakfast
in the name of honor.
(continued; no stanza break) (“The Wastrel” p.4) Honor, as you know, isn’t found in trenches
with the kites pecking away at hollow socketed skulls,
rats gnawing on some recently discovered entrail
honor is meant for better things,
more civilized pursuits, say
the betterment of humanity, or
the education of the poor. Life.
The valuation of humanity can be
its own barometric indicator, its own
level seeker, like water to a low point.
Now we, as you, Professor, did before,
stand against the flowing monster,
mother river ignorance,
and seek to contain it, dam it up, damn it,
until it stops and we can, once again,
enjoy its tranquility, and
rejoice that, in harnessing its energy,
we have determined for ourselves a higher level,
for, contained, humanity’s energies will plateau
at a higher plane. We must do this safely, though;
if we proceed too slow we lose the fight, too fast
and we will channel it in one direction
much too narrowly defined, and,
either way, we lose. Only
in the middle, with enough direction to guide
without allowing ourselves to be overpowered,
will we find the natural level of the energies contained.
This homage that we do then to our own
sense of civilization will be reward enough.
Ancient Egypt knew
the joys of poetry in
the annual flooding of the Nile.

Questions for Homer

How did Odysseus keep his eyes on Ithaca?
Could anyone have blamed him for giving up, the gods
aligned against him, the not inconsiderable charms of
Circe working on him, urging him to stay?

But she, for all her siren arts, a woman, could she
have kept him knowing that a corner of his heart
would never be free of the memory of her,
his wife, whose name the enchantress could not even bear to hear?

How, against all better judgment, did Penelope persevere?
Kingless Ithaca needed a ruler, an overlord, a master, even
a mediocre one, until Telemachus came of age – what, other than her
heart, tugged on her weaving each night, separating warp from woof?

And what of the fatherless son? His entire life spent
in the company of women, what could he have learned of the art of war?
Stranger to the Agogi, his uncalloused hands unused to sword and shield,
unable to pull a bow, what wisdom could he have gained of manhood?

The dog, at least, did what dogs do, and wagged
at the returning master’s nearly forgotten touch.

Jamie Brown earned his MFA from American University, where he worked on his fiction with Frank Conroy, Terry MacMillan, James Alan McPherson, Joyce Kornblatt, and others, and worked on his poetry with Henry Taylor, Myra Sklarew, Linda Pastan, Kermit Moyer and others.

A native of Washington, D.C., he taught for over a dozen years at George Washington University, for eight years concurrently teaching creative writing at Georgetown University. He taught the first-ever creative writing workshop, an eight-week intensive workshop on poetic forms in poetry, at the Smithsonian Institution.

His fiction has been published inCup of Joe: Coffee House Flash Fiction AnthologyThe Delmarva ReviewThe Fiction Review, Gargoyle, Ginosko, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Mediterranean Poetry, Sulphur River Literary Review, The Washington Review,andWordwrights Magazine. His poetry and has been published in dozens of literary magazines, including California QuarterlyGargoyle, Gypsy Blood ReviewNegative Capability, Howling Dog, Kipple, Maintenant, Midwest Poetry Review, Minimus, Musings, Nebo, Phase and Cycle, Poet Lore, Poetry Motel, Rat’s Ass Review, San Fernando Poetry Journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, Tekintet (in translation in Hungary), and Voices International among others.

He won the Best Book of Verse (2013) for Sakura: A Cycle of Haiku, and Best Chapbook of Verse (2019)for The Delaware Bay: Poemsfrom the Delaware Press Association. His most recent chapbook, Aftermath and Other Poems, is forthcoming from Moonstone Press, Philadelphia. His full-length collection, Conventional Heresies was published by Bay Oak Publishers in 2008.

He’s a member of PEN, American Academy of Poets, National Book Critics Circle, and operates The Broadkill River Press. He was presented with the first Legacy Award by the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association for his contributions to building the literary community on the Delmarva Peninsula.

 Five of his plays have been produced “off-Ken-Cen” in the Washington, D.C. alt-theatre corridor of Fourteenth Street in Washington, D.C., a revival of one of which, “Death Comes Twice,” a comedy about Sex and Death (and Sex with Death), swept the  awards in the 2007 One-Act Play Competition in Milton, Delaware (Best Play, Nest Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Costuming). The revival of “Re-Education of the American Proletariate,” won the Best Actor Award the following year.