Michelle Chan Brown

Five Poems

Volume 15:1, Winter 2014


Not relics but erasures.
Not treasures but facts.

Beyond, the permitted desert.

Not the python, or the python’s
vertebrae exhumed from unassuming
brick. Not the dog
asleep by the scissored-through narcissus.
Not the yellow unmeasurable
placenta sprawling below the cradle.

Sun, why the rigging?
You were the stockpile, dazzled by flies.
You were tobacco sinking under water, nothing
like the plant. You were cigarettes,
violet wallpaper spanning
centuries over the titters
of mice entrapped.

Vice in the corkscrew wig of pleasure.
Champagne benefactress,
of a Dionysius with so few oysters
suctioning out his brain.

The first lips
in hostage
under a baroque frame
outside the terrorists’ powder room.

Not the rook on the Christmas chessboard.
Not the x-acto in the Halloween apple.
After the merry-
making, the stubborn broom.

The flesh in the celebrity.
The celebrity, in the flesh.


"Centrifugal Force" by Richard L. Dana, digital print, 2009

Richard L. Dana, “Centrifugal Empire,” digital print, 2009

Cartoon Marriage

You and I befriended the birds, laughed
away the red eyes in the forest, the threat
of flesh and blood just beyond the house perimeter.
Our jolly songs!  Our two dimensions!  I cast you
as the pink-cheeked, hardy heroine, your stock
Norwegian-lite; I played the field mouse, the squirrel,
any foot soldier in the bevy of well-intentioned
rodents, cute and skittish.  I was forever up
on my hind legs, eager to dust under your skirts.
Discarded storyboards littered our kitchen.
When the credits rolled, I finally sought
my hey-presto in your stadium-seat heart.
I cut with big-girl scissors, painstaking as a key grip,
and scooped it out, diligent, spirited.  An animatrix
at the height of her powers, I’ll live on that all winter.


Like Everything

beautiful and good and God-
given, I take you and I ruin you.
I built this house for you. I filch
this earth for you. The walnut trees
and fog and mad squirrels and sour
berries are executed to underscore
a corner piece of lovely promises
beyond the reach of your fingerless
gloves. Remember talk? Remember
bars, and being one of the pretties,
sexual possibility pushing out like
the snifter’s plum cork? So much
tongue we deemed it chorus, church,
glory, glorious. But it’s much better here,
where no one can find us. I promise
you’ll get used to this kind of quiet.
We’ve needed to discuss your screen
addiction. Draw the shades, relax,
I’ll shiv the butter from its slab
and murder chicks in the pan,
stick cigarettes splendid-lit into
those sad, tired numbs of yours.
Isn’t it nice to finally feel? The woods
won’t give away your secrets, being
inanimate and all. So call it – love –
this threading through, these rivers
of wine, wine, tinder, tender. Dearest,
I take you where the leaves are money,
the witch is money, the black birds
blinded and tame. I tear off hunks
to draw you in with scent, mead
and yeast and cunt. The sweetness
of the oven is predicated on the willingness
to burn. The distress of the waters does
not indicate a mother ship. Not for music
I bought you the fine instrument,
but for the sight of entrails, bone, string,
undone and comic over your patrician head.
In truth, a composition stirs me
most when digits are a little broken.
My pride, my prude, my sepulchral nude.
My animal doesn’t know he only hurts
himself with all that scratching. Lionesses
tongue their young to deafness. This is
the symphony I commissioned for the sinking
ceremony, expressly as a mimic to your blood
in sing. The trip had it coming. The bodies
are righteously arranged like friends. This bad
world’s getting badder, love. So I scheduled
the massage and fiddled with the knob until
I found the soothing chirp, your manly backbones
breaking. Down went the ship, the captain’s hat
floating like a joke on the silica we used
to designate ocean. You won’t mind
this sort of island, my kinder, my kindle,
my better and my kind, you’ll use the compass
to locate the only baby in the basket
with razors for teeth. His cry is certified
copy, guaranteed to slay us, over and over and over.


Pleasuring the Enemy

If you don’t like eating we can go to the movies.
If you don’t like movies we can go to the opera.

The symphony.  Let’s moon over the cellist.
The protest.  Let’s chant our own names,

join the cult and forego our worldly goods,
release our balloons into the sorghum ether,

play chemistry or make caramel in the kitchen,
wear orange and go hunt the last town over.

Or you can wear orange and I’ll shave my head
so my ears lie flat as an animal’s.  You can hunt me,

and when I’m shivved to pieces on your pokers,
you can hold me over the campfire and nudge

marrons glacés into my nostrils.  You can stuff me
and sit me by the fire with a round of Chinese checkers.

I’ll let you win.  I’ll let you keep me in the closet,
teetering on high boots, dirty-talking the hangers.

You give a leather mask a real personality.  I feel
the edge of every bad-sex dream

knifing its merry way under my eyelids.
My medicine cabinet topples from the heft

of your medicine, and my walls soften like crêpe
from your heavy breath.  I’m that mess.

I’m in the dustbin—make me pretty,
or at least clean.  Or at least dirty.  I want

to know the soul.  I want to be free of the body,
the legs that spread easy as chopsticks.

It’s warm where you are.  Someone’s crying
in the other room.  Give me the chatty skeleton I can live in.



For an epoch, she was a lizard, crunching bones.
For a century, she was a cot in the Renaissance Hotel.

For a decade, she was white in the nosebleed section.
For a decade, she was the statue, the fish and the children.
Waiting for pennies, she held off breathing.

For a decade, she was hailing red taxis.
She was the fat one in leather. The lasso. The steer.
Seven minutes in the mosh pit becoming the year.

That big, and this
insignificant. Like the center
of the blown-open world,
she couldn’t exist.

In her twenties, she pulled her girlfriends’ laughter over her hair.
She fiddled with their earrings and examined their insects.
No intimacy without a carapace. No good story without a lair.

In her twenties, she treaded water
in the unctuous warmth of her father’s Olympic.
She was the beloved
oddity at her mother’s fair.

For more than an era, she was the chandelier in the terrible quiet of a bedroom.
She was spelling out her name into the ringtone.
She was rewinding the tape, sure
what she was missing.

And you, my stubborn. My craftsman, stringing the ornaments as you elbow out the lights.
My elegant bull, braving the bull, something warm and small in your blanket. Trying to get
quieter as your father fires his pipe and your mother spins her dream records.

Woman, heels sinking into the hill.

And all that time, things deserving their wonder. Geese and rye bread.  Vermont on the
midnight radio. The smell of you, asleep. Faking vertigo in the subway until the real sway,
the real fear, the real long-armed you, catching me.

Woman, saying I do instead of I will.



Michelle Chan Brown's Double Agent was the winner of the 2012 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. She is also the author of a chapbook, The Clever Decoys (LATR Editions, 2010). Her work has appeared in Blackbird, The Journal, The Missouri Review, Sycamore Review, and Witness, and she is two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. A Kundiman fellow, Chan Brown received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Rackham Fellow. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and has received scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Wesleyan Writers' Conference. She lives with her husband, the musician Paul Erik Lipp, in Washington DC, where she teaches, writes, and edits Drunken Boat.