Michael R Brown

The Confidence Man

poems by
Michael R. Brown
Princeton: Ragged Sky Press, 2006

To order send $10 plus $2.00 for mailing to the author:

Michael R Brown
PO Box 14
Robbinston, ME 04671

or to the publisher:

Ragged Sky Press
270 Griggs Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540

The poet proves a confidence man lives inside each of us. This inner presence shows us the world, gives us the faith that there are languages waiting to know us, memories waiting to be reborn. Michael Brown affirms the confidence man by giving him the gift of breath and feeling, his own inner life in poems written for the living.

–Afaa Michael Weaver


The Confidence Man

I sit in the Galleria dell'Academia in Florence.
At the end of the hall stands David,
looking like a quarterback about to rifle one downfield.
Around me stand the four "Prisoners,"
unfinished blocks of marble
where the figures struggle to get out of the stone
the way Michaelangelo said they should
while he was off writing a poem.
My favorite is the guy with the raised elbow,
struggling like hell to break the stone's silence.

A man sits next to me wearing a stylish raincoat, fedora,
soft leather shoes, and says, "I can teach you Italian in two days."
I say, "What?" He says, "Take your hands out of your pockets.
I'm not talking your around-the-corner-pizza-shop Italian
with slow syntax and crude gestures, not that Kevin Kline
I'm-in-the-movies stuff. I mean the real thing,
the Italian of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Petrarch, and Dante,
the Tuscan dialect, restrained yet expressive,
a constant commentary on whatever you say."

"Two days?" I say. "How can you be so quick?"
"I practice," he says. "Aspeta momentito. Look around you.
These are my students." "But they can't speak." "Not yet.
Okay, my little joke, but by trying to teach them, I get good.
Look at that one you like so much. See how he suffers.
Already he knows Hebrew. And the one with the stiff hands
at his side could do English very well. You can do Italian."

They call them con men because we give them our confidence.
The light in his eyes blazed into my imagination,
and I was navigating a Lancia sedan in downtown Roma,
cigaret in one hand gesturing to a lovely lady next to me,
the left hand talking to traffic so much more gracefully,
yet as emphatic as any Boston trucker. I could do this.
"Tomorrow? Domani?" "Bring lira," he says. And I dream.

First Place Winner 2006 Mulberry Poets and Writers Association


for Susan Mahan

Angie the Chest in an angora sweater;
what old R-rated writers called pneumatic;
some movie star with excess ounces who bounced,
walking with a tuba's premonitory before the pah-pah

It's the Germanic side of the river with six steins in each hand,
forearms like hams, and an upthrust bodice
that translated into feather pillows
in spinning room dreams of Oktoberfesters,
British tourists who convert to lager for two weeks in fall,
then return home resigned to slat-chested wives,
maladjusted for lack of it,
afraid as all who don't have any that
they could be overwhelmed by oomph,
smothered by oomph,
as if it were the weight of earth on the coffin,
not the very life force itself.

You can only have a lot of oomph, never too much,
and if you don't believe me,
you've got to try it.
Oomph for the sake of itself,
oomph for joy,
oomph, Papa.

Inside the Van Gogh

First I worked in darkness,
undergrowth, and miner's toil.
Light brings us what we see.
Rembrandt taught me
that, but I wasn't ready for it.

Once I splashed sun on canvas,
inner light merged with outer brightness,
sunflowers blazed in day's furnace
and danced furiously.

in their own fire at night.

Even in a simple portrait, manmade
things make lines too harsh. Only heroic
infusions of light on air can raise
a station in the Metro
or float Parliament on the Thames.

So many self-portraits seeking clues,
so little gain except two truths—
made things make lines, living ones diffuse.
That's all I know,
but it's more than I can use.

Walking Out of the Louvre

All these paintings make me see light spilled like milk,
turning roadways into silver ribbons along the Seine,
Notre Dame rising from Monet's mist,
a man in a blocky black coat,
broad arms angled at the shoulders,
head held stiffly in profile to a woman pinched
in a jacket with fur trim, rhomboid hat,
her lower half a bell above two clappers.

But the Seine rushes through the city,
unmistakably a river channeled by craftily slanted walls.
Les petites oiseaux du printemps twitter
on high apartment house corners.
Gendarmes chat with jeunes filles
in creperies and T-shirt shops.
Algerians and Pakistanis run groceries and small hotels.

The Pantheon is a young church in need of repair,
but in brasseries by the Luxembourg Gardens old folks take tea,
their skulls painted over with layers of past lives,
just as wool suits and fox collars open for young silk blouses
and only lovers know what lingerie.
They chirp like spring birds, seasonal in their at-homeness,
soft-voiced except for business or routine irregularities,
then fold baguettes beneath their wings
and skip home to high nests with glass fronts reflecting twilight,
jazz, and vendors' talk funneled up to them by stucco walls.

In my new dreams, tan pebbled sides ascend to translucent ceilings.
The Sun King's lady in a white wig holds her brocade bell skirt
below a beaded bodice cupping pamplemousses,
laughs the senator to his lady, a modern Marie de' Medici
with one Rubenesque breast showing firm behind sunlit silk.

No matter where I go, distinctive ancient cathedrals
block small apartment-packed avenues,
solid as rock yet floating on angles of light
that can come from anywhere,
as with Magritte, sated by museum perspective,
who painted emanations possible only in his imagination,
yet dreamily beautiful, as things are in Paris.