Four poems by Mahogany L. Browne

Brooklyn Tongue I

The men at the bodega say good morning to
the women with black slacks. Sometimes, they
wink at the young girls with tight jeans. Their
eyes scan the starched school uniform shirts,
white and crisp. But when the men come, they
scowl and pour piping coffee into cardboard cups.
Their lips purse into a disapproving huff. Their eyes
avert, then cut, like switchblades.

Brooklyn Tongue II

The woman makes herself at home in the seat of a
fold out chair.  The storefront is her day gig. She sells
loose cigarettes for two quarters until her red hoodie
bulges, tumor sized, on her right side. She uses her left
hand to wave to the children coming home from
school. They live in her building or up the block.
“They my babies,” she sighs. The crease between her
cheeks and nose look heavy, some days. But on good
days,  when the sun is high and the wind whistles thru
Crown Heights like a young man with his first paycheck,
she wears a jet black wig cropped behind her un-pierced
ears and powders her nose to dull its shine. Her smile
dances of several missing teeth. The butt of her cigarette
is a bronze pendulum, swinging amber into the dusk.

Brooklyn Tongue III

There is a man that cleans the vestibule with a dirty
mop. His patois is heavy like coco bread in milk. He
really isn’t the superintendent, just some man they pay
to mop over the urine and spilled beer. He never speaks
to us when we pass him. He never holds open the door,
even if our arms are heavy with groceries and shopping bags.
So we tuck our smiles in our pockets and limit our answers to
curt head nods. We hold our breath until we make it behind
our apartment door. There we will take a deep pull of Potpourri,
gingerbread and everything that reminds us of home. We stand
and wait for the assault of sticky candy and sour coffee to slide its
odious body back into the building’s main vein, where the man with
the stiff mop waits for Brooklyn to go back to normal.

Brooklyn Tongue VII

he is a brooklyn hydrant sitting
on the corner of nostrand ave.

he aint used to seeing the thugs twitch—call
them names with all the tough love and spit

one can fit on his tongue—say, ‘this block
ain’t what it used to be,’ cross his arms

until his elbows bend black, cock his neck
against the bright headlights tourists, he

is bass booming cool. ‘long as they don’t
bother me.’ hennessey proof eyes

blink back bedstuy love, before she paled
her tongue. before her noise of sagged

jeans and construction boots whimpered into
pavement prowl full of bar boutique for yuppies

—he sighs, ‘Big said things done changed, i
just didn’t believe it would be like this.’

About the author

Mahogany Browne, host and curator at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, is a Cave Canem Fellow who facilitates performance poetry and writing workshops throughout the…

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