Deborah Edler Brown







Women’s Work


Silence tends to make me fear rejection.
It’s an old female fear,
as old as an unanswered smoke signal,
the irrational belief that somewhere in the empty sky
a man is angry
instead of simply out of firewood.

But this is a different silence,
silence in a darker sky.
Today is another day without word
and there is a breath that is not breathing,
a heart that is still,
a subtle self on hold.

Last week I trusted he was safe.
I came home to four emails,
news that they were nearly finished,
heading back to Bahrain,
stateside by June,
that I could write back now, and should,
and send poems and stories.

I had heard how vital mail is in a war zone,
the tie to home,
the boost to morale.
I sent three stories, two poems, a letter and two notes.

Then silence descended like night.

Thursday morning I woke to a New York Times article
on the number of soldiers who have died since the war ended,
from both incident . . . and accident.
So many were heading home.

Wild fear is naked silence.
The ears go first
the blocking of sound and thought,
the ocean pounding of the heart, drowning out everything.
It pushes at your back like wind
while you do dishes, call friends and clients,
make the bed, scrub the floor.

I have talked myself through statistics.
How many people die in accidents at home every month?
How many happen to be soldiers?
I talk myself through faith.
If it is his time,
if this is the full measure of his life,
he doesn’t have to be in a war zone.
I know this.
It doesn’t matter.
This is old stuff, wet and earthy.
This is the cellular memory of women,
the fear of men and dirt,
of the earth taking them back.

Friday night, another article.
Three more deaths in central Iraq, a total of ten this week.
The words swim across my computer screen:
this week.
But he was in Kuwait, heading to Bahrain.
It doesn’t matter.
In the silence, orders change.
People are dying.
Families are grieving.
Love didn’t protect them.
Or prayers.

And I can’t help feeling this –
though I don’t know why, or why now.
I wasn’t this scared when he left,
when he arrived in Iraq,
not even when he was near Baghdad.
But here it is: the ancient path of women,
to worry and pray and wait.

Sunday morning, another headline: Names of the Dead.
I looked at the screen for a long time,
wondering if I should click on it
or call someone to do it for me.
Reason would not have him there.
But fear is not reasonable.
Love is not reasonable.
Nor is war.
Or life.
Or most of what changes us.

I closed my eyes and prayed
Dear God,
Bless all of them.
Bless their families
Let them find comfort in their grief
And let him come home safely.

I said it two or three times before I clicked,
aware of how many people (how many women) were whispering the same.

He wasn’t there. But ten still were.
It was a tempered relief, like the pouring off of Passover wine.
How can we drink a full cup?

That night I looked for an old photo, one of the few I have.
It’s 1989. He’s in Italy or Greece, vamping
behind the headless, armless bust of a Roman statue,
arms as outstretched as his grin.
I took it upstairs and placed it on my altar.
There was resistance to the gesture.
The cliché of it, the drama.
But there are things that we do, the heart requires them,
and this was one.

I propped it against a triptych I bought on the Via Appia,
a small Madonna and child.
“I put him in the hands of the mothers,” I told her,
and also called on his and mine.
“Bring him home safe.”

The day he left I put him in the hands of God.
This moment was woman’s work






Jerusalem, earth-spirit mother,

are you true wife or harlot?

you nurture so many

you spawn ghosts like guppies

whom do you love?

three men have come to you

left seed in your womb

it burns in their imagination

see how the children squabble

they are their father’s children, throwing rocks

do you care for any one

or do you sleep in the sun of ages

turning gold?

in your hills do you mourn them?

somewhere in your desert hills does water flow?




The Marlboro Man


I am the latest victim of the Marlboro Man.

He and the Lone Ranger did me in.

They killed Tonto years ago

They ate Silver for breakfast

And the Marlboro horse looks scared.


Sleeping back to back on separate sides

of the campfire, each one thinks he is alone.

They roam the streets with their eyes closed,

pretending the plains are still vital,

pretending the traffic is the low moan

of cattle and buffalo.


And they got me this morning

stamped my soul like steer for market.

Always number one.

Always uni, single, only.

Always solo.

Always, always independent.


I am the victim of the Marlboro Man,

alone on the prairie.

I don’t need anything, he whispers. I whisper.


We are the American Dream,

the Marlboro Man, the Lone Ranger, and me.

Kill what needs you, kick what you need.


I am the victim of of the Marlboro Man

and I need less and less

the warm blanket, warm meal, warm face of a friend.

I am becoming legendary in my loneness.

Wolf-like. Dagger.


Soon I will flatten into legend.

Soon they will whisper me in hushed admiration.

I will be a hymn to the future.

I will survive Armageddon.

I will stretch out across a billboard of freedom

and sell the disenfranchised spirit,

the disengaged soul.


I am the heir to the American myth,

the latest victim of total independence,

the incarnation of the maverick, the outlaw,

the homage to the Marlboro Man.











Deborah Edler Brown is an award-winning poet and journalist, performer and storyteller, author and teacher. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and in such journals as NimrodKalliope, Trump, MagnaPoets, LoudMouth, Falling StarRadius  and PoeticDiversity.

She was a long-time reporter for Time magazine and is co-author of Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide to Raising a Second Family. Deborah was also the 1997 Head-to-Head Haiku Champion, a member of the 1998 Los Angeles National Poetry Slam Team, and a performer on the 2000 Slam America Bus Tour.

A well-known voice on the Los Angeles poetry scene, Deborah has told stories and poems in libraries, bars, theaters, and bookstores across the country. She holds a degree in Creative Writing from Brown University and was the 2005 recipient of Kalliope’s Sue Saniel Elkind poetry prize. Her story, « Such Stuff as Dreams, » was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Fiction.

Deborah has been teaching private creative writing workshops since 2005. And by day, she makes readers through the adult education division of LAUSD. Her passion for words — written, spoken, and read — infuse everything she does. After all, s she likes to say, « Mere words make magic. »



“Women’s Work” was first published in Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs, Poetry & Sacred Stories by Women (CA: Wild Girl Publishing, 2009)


“Jerusalem” was first published in Lummox (CA: Lummox Press, 2012)


“The Marlboro Man” is unpublished.


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