Book Review of the Collected Writings of Joe Brainard

Book Review of The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard

Joe Brainard was our Rimbaud.
Except he did it differently.
He was a painter too.
That’s what he said he was.
A painter.
He didn’t say he was a writer.
But he wrote a lot.
And I love what he wrote.
I take my poetry too seriously.
Shit like that.
That why I’m writing this.
Joe was a nice guy, it seems like.
And he was from Tulsa.


Too bad Verlaine and all those other dudes
Didn’t know that Rimbaud was their Joe Brainard.
It would have lightened things up for them.
Like it lightened things up for me.
But what is “it”?
Like Rimbaud wouldn’t have gone to Africa.
He could have stayed home.
He could have taken up painting.
But that’s how history is.
It never tells the whole truth. 


New York City, #7: In Memory of Anthony Horton

[Note: I've been back from NYC for more than a month now, but I want to finish putting up my bits and pieces of writing that I was working on while I was there. bb]

Photo of Anthony © Nura Qureshi

New York City is people. A cornucopia of people. Body types. Flesh color. Voices and accents. Languages. The streets and the buildings are full of these people. But it’s in the subways and busses that we get to know each other. We silently negotiate for seats. The give and the take. The rules of the game. Even the young tough men and women, they have their rules. Old people. Young people. Kids. The in-betweeners.  Everybody looks, even if we don’t look. We listen closely. We jostle. We touch.

And the imagination begins to open up.


There, in the darkness of a tunnel, is the ghost of AnthonyHorton. Since his death in March he’s been waiting for me to come back down into the subways. I knew Tony because of Youme Landowne. She collaborated with him to do the wonderful graphic novel, PitchBlack, Don’t Be Skerd. It’s the story of a black homeless man (an artist, a writer) who meets the Youme Landowne (children’s book writer and illustrator), a very white woman, in the subways one day. It’s a story about suffering, a story about compassion and understanding as two-way streets. Anthony and Youme journeyed on the subway together, and when I’m riding the subway, especially when I see a black homeless man, I cannot help but think of Anthony. I wrote this little riff to honor his memory.

I’m in the tunnels going downtown on the #1 train between 103rd and 96th. I hear something. A grumbling. I look out the window. Rising up out of the earth is another train. A ghost snake burrowing up from a deeper tunnel. The windows lit up. Men and women gathered together in a box of light. The #2 Express. It could be us. But it’s them. What’s the difference? Tony Horton would tell you the difference. Except he would tell you there is no difference. Us and them. Them and us. Tony could tell you because he was an artist and a poet. And he used to live down in these tunnels. The tunnels were his home. His city. He pledged his allegiance to the darkness. And to the country for which it stands in darkness. Tony was a citizen of this darkness. He could feel himself in the walls. This is where his friends lived. People like him. Men and women. Neighbors. He had the dark maps in his head. He knew where his people lived, he knew the secrets of the tunnels. This is where he found his strength and his wisdom. The palm of his hand. That’s why he felt safer down here. He hated the city streets. The people up there didn’t understand. They lived in the daylight. How could they understand? Sunlight does not translate into earth-dark. It’s a different language altogether. Tony was our pioneer into the world that will come. That’s what he said. These tunnels. Down here he was meant to find himself. Here in the dark he battled against his drinking. Here in the dark he battled against his gods. Here he battled against his memories. No mother to find. No father to find. He looked around and could not find himself. Maybe he himself was not there. Maybe we aren’t here. Maybe that is the secret. He refused to live inside the light. He said everything he needed he could find in the garbage that he dragged into the darkness.

Tony found an empty room in the tunnels. The room would become his home. But first he needed to camp out in that room. The room was black. Don’t be skerd, he said. Don’t be skerd. The room is warm. Tony waited for the rain. And soon it rained in the world up above. Tony’s room didn’t fill up with rain water. It didn’t even leak. He felt like he was home. He found an old mattress and a hotplate and a lamp. He brought cardboard for the floor, he found an old blanket. He moved in. He stole electricity from the subway wiring. He had made himself a home. He had found his own kind of light. Stolen light. Borrowed light. Light to live by in the earth dark. He had a place to sleep. It was all free. He wondered what the word “free” meant. He went up into the streets and into that other light to beg for money and to beg for food. To see a few friends. But he always came back to his home. He was safe down there. And warm.

And one night a spark from the hot plate set his world afire. Tony died down in these tunnels. A terrible screaming death. You can read about it in the New York Times.

─in Memory of Anthony Horton                   
With blessings to Youme Landowne and her family