Poetry by Garret Brown

Read the Dundalk Eagle article about Garret Brown here

About the Author

Garrett J. Brown was born in Baltimore. His poems have appeared in various journals including the Ledge, Pif Magazine, the Midwest Poetry Review, and most recently in the August 2005 literary issue of Urbanite Baltimore.  In 2000, he won a Creative Writing Fellowship from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he graduated with his MFA in Creative Writing.  His book-length manuscript, Manna Sifting, was runner-up in the 2003 Maryland Emerging Voices competition and he recently won the Poetry Center of Chicago’s 2005 Juried Reading Contest (www.poetrycenter.org), judged by Jorie Graham.  He is currently teaching writing at University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is pursuing his PhD.  Garrett’s chapbook, Panning the Sky, was published in 2003 and is available from Pudding House Publications (www.puddinghouse.com).


Two o’clock outside the plate mill,

men trickle out in worn jeans,

remove hard hats and light

cigarettes.  Their eyes are pig iron,

their skin cooled slag; they lean

and smoke against a concrete wall.

My grandfather laid brick, raised

these city walls with his hands

(cement under his nails, fingerprints

on each block) and a few tools

that now sit in their red dust, silent

in my grandmother’s garage.

The steelworker feels this landscape

in his body — ore bridge ribs,

arms skip-hoist thin and a belly

bloated with coke and limestone,

a smoldering oven banked inside.

For thirty years my father survived

layoffs, union disputes, soot

on the cars and soot in his lungs.

He worked as his father worked, shipping,

forging steel, the steel that forged

this town.  Driving the beltway

in a car of foreign alloys and plastic,

I watch Sparrows Point surrender

its last gray breaths to the air

and approach the Key Bridge ,

a steel arch that spans the distance

we must cross to forge a metal

less defined.

Bear Creek Bridge

Snook McAllister wore new loafers

to Turner’s Station—black leather, soles

sanded smooth.  The barmaid was Irish,

red-haired and big-boned, hands shaking

while pouring shots of Jameson—told him

how she and her sister spent August evenings

swimming naked in Galway Bay , bare legs

flapping like mermaid fins.  Tipped more

than he could afford, waited outside, watched

his friends catch the last streetcar back

to the Point.  She walked him as far as the rail

bridge, tongue curled inside his cheek.  He bought

these damn shoes at the Company Store, polished

them with old newspaper.  His first few

cautious steps were fine, tie to railroad tie—

but now the slip, the dropping to all fours,

vertigo.  Alone, suspended in this thickening

fog, deep horns weigh the air, unseen ships

on the Patapsco displace their water, trains

clattering at the shipyard.  Thin saliva

threads a gap in the bridge, and he listens

for flapping in the creek below, but only

the violent copulation of metal scraping metal,

distant thunder of B furnace blowing its charge.

Bay Shore Reunion

Gathering one streetcar stop away

from a town that no longer exists, displaced

people multiply their memories.  I listen

to Eleanor Cox describe creosote in the air,

how she lied about her age to work at Gavin’s

drug store.  I served ice cream and soda,

chocolate malts, where you gonna get real

banana splits today?  The men here talk

in steelworker’s tongue (cools instead of coils;

far never fire).  One claims his father could read

the emotion of a flame spitting from a Bessemer

and know the nature of the metal—cold blue:

angry steel, pores closed, unyielding; a blinding

yellow: sympathetic steel, its motion slow as it spreads

into sand molds, branching out, luminous

liquid seeking pockets in the earth, pigs suckling

around the mother sow.  On his death certificate

they summed up 38 years in one word: laborer.

Later, I drive past an abandoned

guard station, get out of the car

and stand on 7th Street , try

to trace this wounded landscape

into a sketchbook.  Confounded

by strange shapes, I fall into myth:

blast furnace a lumbering cyclops,

skip-hoist arms dragging the ground;

poles and wires become discarded

weapons of giants, smokestacks

coughing the flesh of soldiers

up into the air.  I know nothing

of this skyline rusting away.

Eleanor relives the winters—skip hoists vanishing

into gunmetal horizons, children sledding down piles

of coke, dumped slag turning the sky red, bleeding

soft pink onto the snow.  She tells me about a man

who lived alone underneath Gavin’s drug, loved

the blues and made his living crafting false teeth.

Baltimore Vignettes

In Dundalk , loading cranes line the dock,

stretch their necks over the water, swallowing

their drink.  One hoists up

its head, an indignant brontosaurus

peering through the fog.


Behind formstone houses, backyards

are thin in the August dusk.

My cousins play rundown in the alley,

they do not surrender the game to the dark.

I am fifteen, hunched with the men

around the grill, still smoldering

with heat and the smell of hamburger.

They drink beer out of cans, listen

to baseball, speak of steel mills and cement.


On a sidewalk in Fell's Point,

the trapdoor to a basement

is left open, the air inside

cut with turpentine and oil.

A girl in a wool sweater with charcoal hair

sits at her bench, cleans her brushes

and stares at the wall.  What began

as a Parisian landscape

has become a mammoth, wounded

by the hunter's spear.


This harbor, dark and oily, slides

between mounds of coal, warehouses

of girders and rust, lonely piers

where tugboats rock

with a muted splash.

It peeks up at the streets,

quiet and exhausted,

an Arabian bazaar deserted at dusk,

then sinks back into its bed,

its blurry glass, and sleeps.

Duckpin Buddha

JoAnne watches her boyfriend’s ass as he bowls:

flattened cheeks clad in tight black jeans, a wet rag

tucked in his back pocket.  He grabs a lane ball,

like he always does, holds it up like a gray moon.

He claims its nicks and craters are knowledge

of this floor’s polished wood, the duckpin teeth

grinning at the end of the lane,.  It is a philosophy

unshared by the obese bald man everyone calls

Buddha.  Every Tuesday night JoAnne sees him

polishing his light green ball, swirled with clouds,

his pouty earlobes pierced by gold hoops.

Her grandmother used to say thunder was the sound

of saints bowling.  Buddha stands and the globe

disappears into his fleshy palm.  His eyes close

for a pinfall and when he moves his grace shames

the wiry ballet of the Tuesday Turnouts: Jimmy Z’s

side-armed toss, Striker’s cross-legged slide.  The ball

glides from Buddha’s hand, surfs the glossy lane,

jade spinning toward angelic thunder.

Church Bull-Roast

Sister Janowski shakes her blue-skirted hips

to Snoop Doggy Dog, silver cross flapping

between pillow breasts.  At the Big Six wheel,

Mr. Fitzpatrick plays quarters and drinks another

captain and coke.  His gaze lingers on the sweet asses

of two eighth-grade girls flirting with the young

deacon John by the dessert table, the cakes trimmed

with thick chocolate, punctuated by vulgar cherries.

Mr. Brandon wins the confessional kneeler

for sixty-two dollars at the silent auction.  He runs

his fingers over the tight red leather and imagines

the sinful knees of Mrs. Floyd, his son’s sixth grade

math teacher with the plump lips and the single

curl of hair that ribbons her dancer’s neck.

Driving: Dundalk Marine Terminal

Sweat bleeds in the fold

between your knees and sun-baked vinyl

as the harbor pants rusted air

against your gunmetal car, hitting

75 across this pothole stretch of road.

Even this must end, logic will not

disappoint that train-rail fact.

But when dirt-speck birds continue to circle

above your hairline highway,

and you fear control is the coyote who tricks,

you are moved to burn your hands

on a blazing fire wheel and turn

into a gutter to feel the asphalt-metal smack

and your spirit jarred loose

for a fraction of a blink.