Poetry by Michael H. Brownstein


When the Sorokku tree came to us—
dead?—half dead?—panting?
was it the change of air, the foreign soil,
the strange language we used around it?
We anchored it with a ring of candles,
jasmine and sunshine, the greenhouse
blossoming with leaf and hornet,
flower and beneficial. The tree held
its breath. We researched, googled, asked
young girls to take turns kicking its bark
(and when my wife joined the line,
heard a no from somewhere, a you’re too old,
and she stepped away). The greenhouse
gathered moisture, let insects lay eggs
on scale and mites, welcomed butterflies,
beetles, ladybugs, the smell of soap,
sandalwood, peppermint, pickle juice.
Still the tree refused to breathe,
and so we talked to it, stood before it,
and finally listened. It was then we found
the piece of crystal, small and inexact,
with just a hint of the Buddha shape.
We buried it between roots and trunk
and soon, first leaves, new shoots,
and we celebrated, offering more candles,
spices and sugar, water from the homeland,
young girls with broad feet and we thought
to bury another crystal, but did not
understanding now the value of understanding.
The tree, satiated at last, let its leaves flow
to their length, and we began to feel its breath,
marveled at the way it held itself as if in prayer,
its leaves the palms of hands rejoicing
as if it too had need of reverence.


One moment you feel a weight of gravity,
A blanket, for example, the first light,
A slight draft and then, out of focus,
You come into yourself and understand
The confusion of ghosts. How unsettling to be

Alone. You were dreaming and now
you are watching yourself sleep.
When they come, you will not be ready.

In those minutes, in those days, in that first week,
Can you not hear the thunder? The watcher?
The making of the pyre? Nails to wood?
Sorry, there is nothing here—just wind
You now control, a wall no longer in the way.

How do you make a ghost? Someone was not there
When someone was needed. You are alone
And in your aloneness you began to weep.

Let the thunder roar, let the sitter sit with you,
Let a candle light your way, let the warmth come near,
Let your lack of weight make it that much easier.
Somewhere there must be a home for you.
Somewhere there must be a brightness to grow into.


About Michael H. Brownstein

Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published. His work has appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, and others. He has nine poetry chapbooks, including The A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004) and Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012). He is the editor of First Poems from Viet Nam (2011). Brownstein currently in the English specialist for Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri.