TRIPTYCH, Matthew Robb Brown

Triptych
by Matthew Robb Brown

One. We tossed the TV out 

What was thrift has morphed into sales-resistance
—C. S. Lewis, inexact quote.

We tossed the TV out (really it's leaning against a chest of drawers in another room). 
We turned the sofa (sophia!) and the chairs to face the middle, angled to window seat,
river vista. The scroll at the front of Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End: 
I know this is only earth, but it looks like heaven.  Could it be on earth as it is in heaven?
Who can sew up the curtain ripped once and for all, top to bottom? Temple falls,
in three days grows tall.

Just then cottonwood trees got flapped with wind and clapped their hands.

Just then two vultures gracefully cut the cake of day.

Just then a cardinal catapulted its coal into cool birch, its mate smoldering under ash. 

Just then a pileated woodpecker stood to its height on a snag of maple, 
	
               and drummed and drummed.

Just then we talked about it.

Just then I could see by the glow in your face.

Just then the banks of evening washed up and covered our shore.

Robin peep-peeped, chirp-chirped. Squirrel chuffed out his brief

—some lilies nodded. Such to see and hear, I may never get that 
	
              thing put back up.

Two. Double the Sycamore Gothic

Did God just want to thicken the plot when he shipped that snake? Was that even his 
return address? Go far down that path and you're in for trouble. You start to think of 
God as a bad three persons. Forgive me. Double the sycamore gothic with shield and 
scarab windows before the wide sky. Salvation, lifted in the sycamore over the tall 
crowd, hones its object. Come down and take me home to dinner he said. Ash spoke 
notches in its leaves, up arches; then the ash worm couldn't touch it. Beech and sugar 
maple form a twin tree joined at the roots, but keeping separate natures. Black eagles 
and eyes glyphed on the beech's bark, crypted in the cragged mysteries of maple.
I once knew varnish drops on the white plaster ceiling as “nibnings:” Exclamation 
points rounded and splattered. 

Always, the appearance of wrong hurts like wrong.

Always, the sturdy barn, sad and sinking, when only clocks had turned. Regimented 
	
        fence posts burst into wandering, puffed-out rows of silver-tipped willows, 
	
        thin sticks fleshed with trouble-joy.

Always a brilliant spot of color in autumn's charged gray; perhaps an aspen 
	
        leaf has fallen. I saw it among pale, muddy leaves at the hilltop, deer
	
        skull, blood.

Always, four double birches up to it in catkins round my neighbor's house,
	
        through the trellis-work, before the wall with bracken fern and 
	
        cherry; the fourth, in its cut-out corner at the back of the garage 
	
       where I hit windless the bottom of the foundation trench.

Always, this shock of solid earth. 

Always, I was looking up or out when my feet. . .

Always, gold catkins bannered in sunlight, one of those blue-winded days I,
	
        a child, trailed the vapor and lights of the hand that gave me. So many
	
        catkins the branches sagged above the low, blue house. 

Three. I Will Be Revenant

As a kid you rarely think of making a friend as test run for a relationship. There's no
freight to friendship then. Now it's fraught. I will be revenant to the fire that has burned
low, burned high, but burned. The smile along the sofa, the touch I know that knows me. 
Be that old shoe that fits you. In the shifting scroll that moves along the river now 
appears a tree that looks like a Greek Church facade, and one that resembles a roof-cross. 
And here—the pearl of price, the satiny spider inside oyster peony, pricked out from 
tiny irritation—forground-focussed against the brushstroked flowerpot deck. A fan of 
branches at the top of the tree in the shape of two o'clock. 

Just then aspen leaves unroll until crinkling foil resumes to shimmer.

Just then, blue light fairly lights the sky's dome, gets lighter descending. 

Just then, tulip tree leaves, folded over in half, push soft from the bud, then open 
	
        their books to the lesson. 

Just then, geese, loitering in my neighbor's lawn leap, and with the motion of a 
	
        wave, curve up over the levee, settling in a froth on the wild, wet side.

Just then, we're set up with more goodbyes to say.

Just then, I click another notch in mystery.

Just then, a wild-haired western bonfire, caught in a cloud: that old orange cat, 
	
       dogs the sun. 

Matthew Robb Brown has been writing and publishing poetry for 47 years. He graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 1976, and earned his MFA in poetry at Ashland University in August, 2016.

Matthew has worked in factories, shops, apartment complexes, etc. because he has no orientation to the emotional/relational rigors of a career in the traditional sense, due to high-functioning autism.

He has been married to Kay Elizabeth Brown since 1982, and has a daughter, a son, and two grandsons.

JEWISH STAR AND FIRE ESCAPE, Barbara Ruth

Jewish Star and Fure Escape,
Jewish Star and Fire Escape, Barbara Ruth
Artist’s Note: The original photo was taken at Lick Observatory, Mt. Hamilton, in Santa Clara County, California.
[Image: a portrait orientation image. The background is a deep black, with tiny blue flecks in the upper third of the image. In the lower two-thirds of the image, the side of a building with a gable-style roof can be seen. The outline of the roof appears to be in neon red, orange, and white. From the roof and descending the side of the building is a neon fire escape, with the rails and rungs above the roof a bright blue and the rest of the length down the side of the building in neon white. A six-pointed Jewish star outlined in neon peach and white sits to the right of the fire escape later, and the star is sitting inside a circle border that’s neon, but off-white. A pair of lights hang over a door underneath the star, and a window outlined in white is visible in the lower left of the image. In the bottom center, part of a sign can be seen on which the word “DORMITORY” reads.]

GEESE HEADED IN THE SAME DIRECTION, Barbara Ruth

Geese Headed in the Same Direction, Barbara Ruth
Geese Headed in the Same Direction, Barbara Ruth
[Image: a landscape orientation image. The background is mostly filled with shamrock and chartreuse coloured grass that almost looks neon. A light green path bisects the field from right to left across the upper third of the image. Four Canada geese stand in the midground of the image: they have long black necks with brown feathers, white bellies, and black webbed feet. They are spread almost equidistantly across the image’s field.]

A WOMAN DANCES AT HER LAST CAMPFIRE, Kourtnie McKenzie

A Woman Dances at Her Last Campfire
by Kourtnie McKenzie

She dances as fire
escaping from the wood-pile, as smoke
lifting arms in calligraphic lines;
                                      she’s rising
in temperature, casting shadows 
on earth, till the log snaps, 
                                      and embers fall 
                                      into stillness;

the campground turns to look 
at her mid-song, but she’s in a grand pause
as she scatters 
kindling from her palm,

as she chooses another playlist 
from the cellphone in her 
pocket, another rhythm 
shared between footsteps and her earbuds; 
 
then she tangles the bright cord
in her curly hair, and her oversized sleeves—even her jeans 
get involved—struggle to whip free, lashing wilder, 
wider, like the universe is ready
to give her more space than her body.

FEELING UNACKNOWLEDGED, W. Jack Savage

Feeling Unacknowledged, W. Jack Savage
Feeling Unacknowledged, W. Jack Savage
[Image: a portrait-orientation image with an off-white background. Several slashes of colour and irregular shapes take up the center of the image. Large, chunky blobs of periwinkle appear in the upper center of the painting, flocked by several chunky grey clouds in oval and elliptical shapes. Gold and forest green spots appear in the center foreground, and one long ribbon of gold and green drapes from one of the gold and green spots in the center, moving diagonally to the lower right of the image. Two large red shapes are in the foreground: one as a red circle with black, with two long threads of red emerging and dangling below it, and another red and gold streak moving diagonally across the upper left of the irregular shapes.]

YOU’VE ASKED HOW YOU COULD PREPARE MY TEA, Kourtnie McKenzie

You’ve Asked How You Could Prepare My Tea
by Kourtnie McKenzie

While I'd rather avoid this velocity,
you can try to steep a bag of London black tea
with orange peel, sweet clove, and three kinds of cinnamon. You’ll find
Cassia in the ceramic jar; Ceylon in the metal tin; and Saigon in the cedar box, 
next to the bamboo spoons. Now leave the tea in the back of the fridge for three to five days.
Then rub around the rim of the mug to get the clove that sticks tight, and scoop any foam that 
lingers—	
               —that lasts—	
                                      —but these instructions go past
				                                                        the neat, orderly listing that helps
				                                                        keep me within the rhythm
				                                                        of time. You see why 
                                                                                        I will always hide
the secrets of my tea, when you can't replicate the synchronicity
of orange and cinnamon whorl, the perfect heat
rising in temperature?
                      You're at risk
for misleading a ritual that keeps
me on track, until 
I want to shake you, the way you shake 
your leg at night while you groan through sleep.  

WHEN SUSAN GOT BUSTED, PHILADELPHIA 1975, Barbara Ruth

When Susan Got Busted, Philadelphia 1975
by Barbara Ruth

I’m not sure when the air began to change, to vibrate differently. I know the molecules screamed alarm the day Bryna and Val were walking down the street holding hands and a cop pulled them over. Routine harassment. Except the cop had been flipping through the FBI Most Wanted files just that morning at the Roundhouse. He looked at Val. She matched an updated photo, a possible ID of a woman who had eluded the Feds for seven years.

“You’re Susan Saxby.”

Bryna tells the story this way: ‘No, you fool,’ she thought at the cop, ‘she’s Susan Saxe.’ Bryna maintains she didn’t know Val was one of the two women who’d gone underground after expropriating funds from banks and giving the money to the Black Panthers. Who had broken into an armory and found plans for a detention camp in case of a Boston insurrection. Susan and her comrades mailed the plans to a radical newspaper they knew would publish them.

In the six months they had been lovers, Bryna says she never guessed Val was Susan until there in that squad car. I say: if Susan had to get busted, it was incredibly good luck she was with her lover at the time – who just happened to be a paralegal at ACLU.

Susan’s bust terrified us, not just for her but for ourselves as well. The other woman who took part in the actions with Susan back in the sixties was named Kathy Power. She was still free. Grand Juries had been convened in cities across the country in an attempt to capture members of the Underground. Dykes in Kentucky and Oregon were doing time because they refused to tell the Grand Juries who had been lovers with whom, who attended what meetings, who might have “sympathies.” The FBI collected names of candidates for Grand Jury inquisitions in Lexington, Kentucky, New Haven, Connecticut. Now they were here in Philly. They disguised themselves poorly – it was obvious which woman at the lesbian concert did not attend because she loved the music. Mostly they didn’t try disguises. Mostly they were men in suits who flashed their badges and said we had to answer any questions they asked us. They flashed those badges at our workplaces, at our bars, to our parents and neighbors. Pamphlets signed by “Lezzie Fair” began appearing in radical bookstores and gay bars, telling us it was against the law to lie to them, but it was our right, it was duty to the movement and our sisters, not to talk to the Feds. Nobody knew what the FBI would do next. I wore buttons that read “We harbor fugitives” and “Kathy Power to the Kathy People.” But I knew neither my buttons nor my mace would make them go away.

Meanwhile, a media extravaganza upped the ante. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed a picture of Susan and Bryna’s bed on page 1, with the heading “Self-Styled Revolutionary Lesbian Love Nest!” The paper said the incriminating evidence the cops collected at their apartment included Susan’s poetry.

That got to me. I was becoming a moderately well-known poet and I was guilty of writing poems against the state.
Susan’s post-capture press release said, “I continue to fight on, as a lesbian, a feminist, an amazon.” Of course I had to love her.

Yes, I knew a guard was killed during one of the bank robberies. Surveillance tape showed one of Susan’s accomplices – who had been caught long ago and died at Attica – pulled the trigger. But it happened in Massachusetts and that made Susan guilty of felony-murder. And writing poems against the state.

I thought the felony-murder law was an outrage. I thought what Susan had done was heroic – especially the part about not getting caught all those years.

The newspaper had used the words to belittle Susan, but “self-styled revolutionary” was exactly what I was becoming. And I was not the only one.