Betsy Brown

Betsy Brown is a teacher and writer in New York City. She has a B.A. in Media, Culture, and the Arts from The King's College and is working on her M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction through Seattle Pacific University.

To Die is Gain

In school today I taught my students
why leaves change in the fall.
The book I read to them says
the green drains out,
revealing the other colors;
the reds, yellows, and oranges
were in the leaf all along.
And so the leaf does not gain something
in order to be red, it loses something,
like the statue hiding inside
the block of marble.
Maybe I should shrink,
shedding skin, snake-like,
refined, dross-less.
Maybe I should stop wanting
to be so big,
because at my best,
half of me—the green, the chlorophyll, the envy,
will be gone.


I want to meet the man who twisted the curves into wrought iron fences.

Sit me sown with that sandy soul who pulled the big bricks into pyramids,

the woman who wove the tapestries in the Cloisters.

I want to wear an architect on my sleeve

who beats and builds ever so soundly

and I can take him out at any moment

and ask him questions.


Why do men no longer build cathedrals?

When I lean on my brick and siding Ohio home I feel no flying buttresses.

The men who molded great buildings with their fingertips

lay now,

and feed the vines that crawl up their walls.

I want to bless their big decomposing fingers.


When I walk New York’s West Side I cup my hands over old apartment buildings

and read their rocks like braille.

The gargoyles and Roman numerals speak secrets to my fingers.

When I run my little finger along stained glass I know that

creaking floors crack jokes

and rusty screen doors ramble sometimes

about those who walked through their doors

for a hundred years.


Give me marble and a thousand days to cut it,

and domed ceilings like upside-down sailing ships,

and old Victorian doorways marked with the heights of growing children.


Marry me to a carpenter,

give me even five minutes of dialog with a stonecutter,

because even Christ and Socrates carved creations to hold me.

To a Manager at a Kampala Guest House

Dear Charlotte,


You hang up our clothes on the trees to dry

after washing each piece by hand.


Sometimes I wonder if you sleep,

when you serve us papayas and tea in the morning

and we ask, “how was your sleep?”

and you say, “very short.”


I’ve only known a few women like you–

more concerned about making our beds than sleeping in your own.

You serve us Novida pineapple soda and chicken and chips with your strong shoulders and say,

“you look smart,”

which means I look nice,

maybe beautiful.


I think you look smart, Charlotte,

with your long purple dress and sandals and strong brown jaw,

sweeping the porch to the sound of Cher–

you bring us water when the pipes don’t work,

and sometimes at night you join our mzungu parties

to laugh and decipher our American accents.

I like to make you laugh–

it makes me believe that humor can hop across continents.


And so you hang up my skirt on the trees to dry

as I fall asleep with the fan on,

trying to memorize the grace of your dance steps.