Brick Road Poetry Press

poetry made to entertain, amuse, and edify

The mission of Brick Road Poetry Press is to publish and promote poetry that entertains, amuses, edifies, and surprises a wide audience of appreciative readers.  We are not qualified to judge who deserves to be published, so we concentrate on publishing what we enjoy. Our preference is for poetry geared toward dramatizing the human experience in language rich with sensory image and metaphor, recognizing that poetry can be, at one and the same time, both familiar as the perspiration of daily labor and as outrageous as a carnival sideshow.

Poetry by Jackie Craven from Secret Formulas &Techniques of the Masters


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About Jackie Craven

Maroger’s Magic

The night before he left for the nursing home,

my stepfather called to tell me about the burglars

who slipped through his skylight, whisked away

the Portmeirion china, the vacuum cleaner,

and the four-poster bed—removed everything

without disturbing his blankets or his sleep.

Even your mother’s paintings, he said, the one

with the goose, and that Mexican scene, and the still life

with the pomegranate spilling seeds so red

they’d make your tongue curl. He breathed softly

into the phone. Gone, just gone. Then: Well, not gone

completely. My stepfather believed that for every

item taken, the thieves left a replica. The smallest details,

down to the dent on the refrigerator door, had been

reproduced. But don’t tell your sister, he whispered:

She’s a duplicate, too. He would not be convinced

otherwise. And me? I still believed in the magic

potion my mother mixed with paint to give fruit

a lifelike luster, an amber jelly brewed

according to instructions from an out-of-print book

my sister and I rediscovered when we went to empty

our parents’ house. Look, she said, cracking open the spine,

the recipe calls for mastic tears dissolved in turpentine

and simmered with smoked oil and white lead—

so expensive and toxic, and the temperature must be exact.

Who could possibly get it right? I swayed, dizzy

from the memory of steam billowing from an enamel pot,

a stench of burning walnuts, and then, jars crashing

into the garbage bin—the solvent spoiled. We sat

cross-legged beside the packing crates, children again,

as my sister read to me from The Secret Formulas

and Techniques of the Masters, written during World War II

by Jacques Maroger, a reactionary who, she gently explained,

must’ve been insane.

Old Woman with Goose (30 x 24, Oil)

When I was a swirling minnow

my mother filled this canvas

with loam and olives—layer

after layer of brown aromas—

She must’ve felt queasy

perched on her artist stool,

swooping her palette knife

side to side while I swam

inside her. I learned

to walk on land and saw

how she glazed buff over

blue, dusk over amber—

colors stroked on, scraped away—

She couldn’t make paint behave.

She wanted a Rubens scene

like the one that inspired Yeats—

wings, thighs, a shudder

in the loins. But the tossing

truth of me—moving, growing—

seasickness and a smell

of pee and turpentine,

and the strange heart

beating beneath her ribs.

Instead of Leda, she painted

an angry crone—knurled fingers

grasping a blur of white

feathers. I believe she’d like

to wring the bird’s neck.

Those fierce eyes follow me

across the room.

House Beautiful Designer Room #132

You wonder who will fill the Barcelona chairs,

drink from tulip glasses, eat the peaches

in the starburst bowl. A Calder mobile turns,

casting slow shadows on parquet floors.

Tufted cushions hold their breath.

You press a damp finger to the photograph.

Beyond sliding doors, only daffodils,

an improbable sky, a smudge

from your inky hand.

1962, Polaroid

When Kennedy told us what the Russians planned

my mother said we were fortunate

to have a basement, although

she wasn’t sure she could live underground

with my father. Where would he sleep?

The television played old news reels of Hiroshima

and a murder mystery by Alfred Hitchcock,

who was wide and bald like Khrushchev, but

did not threaten to incinerate the planet,

and who spoke with such a soothing British accent.

I drifted into dreams of butterbats,

which were nocturnal butterflies

with radioactive fur.

The sun rose. My mother poured orange juice

to help me grow. Her art students arrived

and propped their easels like teepees

on the patio. She set out cocktail tables

for their paints and brushes. We did not

eat our neighbor’s dog. The sky turned

pale as ash, but hot, and the students perspired

inside their smocks. I carried jugs of water

to the basement. On a cot beneath a cloud

of cigarette smoke, my father snored

as though the world might never end.

From the garden, a student asked,

“How do you make wings?”

Glass, Iron, Feathers

Because my father would not allow a dog

my mother bought a parakeet

we called Firebird after the Stra-

vinsky ballet—griffin claws

backward knees butter-colored

zebra wings like a costume by

Marc Chagall—any moment

Firebird might shape-shift into

a sorceress and cast a spell—

Exorcizamus omnis immundus spiritus

real birds aren’t usually this articu-

late but some nights I could hear

wild ones shriek—rusty hinges—

shattered glass—mocking

birds mocking the whip-poor-

wills who called to the loons who

answered the hawks—


and then the moonlight

and the scent of honeysuckle

and whiskey and dangerous dreams

floating on one long eeee-oooow

smarter than any dog my mother said

and used her grocery money to buy

a parakeet training record—Hel-lo-bay-bee

Firebird fluffed to twice her size and the record

went on and on—Hel-looo-bay-beeeeeee—her beak—

old-man toenail—opened wide enough to say AKKK

and my father said What do you expect from a feather-brain?

a translucent eyelid slid sideways shutting like a shower door

and my mother opened the wire cage—eeee-EEEEEEEEE

a smudge of mustard on the air—the record turning—

Firebird turning and turning—window top to wing chair—

droppings like tear crusts on the walls—an origami bird

in a furious wind—my mother saying baby-baby—my father—

crazy-crazy—the record—bay-beeeee—and the parakeet swirling

yellow circles—Stravinsky voice trying to say beeeeeeee

The Psychic Says

In your 394th life, you were a pond. You wanted to be a lake

and cried yourself to the brim, but the sun—

You came back an estuary. Not fresh, not salt.

Not land, not sea. Crabs tunneled through the mushy parts

of you. Always the threat of evaporation.

You dabbled in many incarnations—

Life 1,052, a fall (always falling). Life 6,893, a canal

(it was those locks that did you in).

In life 14,659 you managed to become an ocean.

You curled your lips at the sun and swallowed

Atlantis whole. No one guessed

how you dogged the moon or how you suffered

the sickening swirl of your perpetual motion. Now

you throw yourself up at my shore, thirsty

for answers. Seriously? I think you already know

why you weep, why you bleed, and why, as you drift

to sleep, you hear a steady hiss of steam.

I Heard a River Downstairs

Half-formed words hissed to the surface

and tried to walk on land. Silver-scaled whispers

swished from the kitchen, fizzled

down the hall, and swelled

in my parents’ room. For a sleepy moment

I wondered whether my teacher, Miss Simmons,

had slipped into our home—a mission

to correct my lisp. Repeat after me:

Sun. Sky. Sorrow. But this was summer—

No lessons, no drills, only the hush

of grownups deep in mysterious discussion.

I stretched my ears into points, strained

to hear voices that slithered and hid behind

the summer noises—crickets rubbing thighs,

bullfrogs burping in the grass, cries so shrill

fireflies throbbed. A few stray Ss, snatches

of my name, swirled like candy wrappers

in the current. Miss Simmons always said

I tried too hard. She claimed I had sibilance

already inside me, waiting. Clench your teeth

and blow, she instructed. But as secrets

splashed against my window and seeped

beneath my door, my head felt heavy

and I forgot where to put my tongue.

To My Tongue

Flabby-bottomed bottom feeder,

blind slug, taster and teller of lies,

what am I to do with you?

There you loll, pimpled with pleasure,

dreaming of steamy croissants

and buttered kisses, leaving me

to wash the dishes. I feel you curl

in my cheek and lap at my teeth

and I’m reminded of the hermaphroditic

gastropods who slid into

my mother’s garden, shape-shifted

their sexes and ate her hostas.

Meanwhile in the gazebo—

piña coladas and tiramisu,

voices rimmed with lipstick,

obstreperous casseroles.

Must you slobber on everything?

I’ve been thinking it might be time

for us to go our separate ways,

for you to grow gargoyle wings

and fly off to Taco Bell,

wafting halitosis, trailing crumbs.

But then—what of me? No words,

no wants? A castrato who cannot sing?