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wanted to be an artist

wanted to be a fireman wanted to be a nurse wanted to be a dancer

hold that flame steady within your hands if a wind comes, turn to where there’s no fear for the flame, the flame’s survival

live as you can with these long shadows if you fall into the surrounding reservoirs, swim as imperceptibly as you can over the dark water

wanted to be leaves wanted to be waves, wings, warm feathers wanted to be what stays shimmering on the canvas

after the brushes have moved on

for the children and parents of Newtown



An old woman brought you to us, first on her back, then dragged across snow the last miles. Crows scraped around her with their sour cries.

Her boys not there to help, never heard from since soldiers took them, and her daughter still in the dark room where the soldiers left her.

Curled on the earth, she dreamed a tall ship sliding into harbor with this burden, but when she woke, early, the wood lay heaped before her.

I would put coins in her hands, at least try to warm them, but she is gone already, vanished into the next place, the next, leaving these flames leaping.

She knows they feed us, that is why she comes, She never fails us. Her name is Joy; she was not always old.


The Voices

for Dale Warland and the singers on the occasion of their farewell concert,

I don’t know if we have ever deserved the voices, but they are ours, I don’t know if we ever have known what it means to be able to speak in those tongues, and only in my worst, most useless moments have I tried to imagine our lives without them. Where might we go in the world where they would not reach us?

I would never go into the dark without the voices, I have come to rely on how they mend us among the ruins of what we have hoped for. If there were only one branch in the world, the voices would find it.

Doubt was never the root of us, doubt winds itself, again and again, around our doing, but it was never the source, joy is the source, foliage of joy in which the singers are hidden, but heard; always the gate, always the garden, always the light, the shadows, always the leaves.

From where I stand now, I cannot see every singer, but looking out across the years, listening in ways learned only from them, I can hear all the song.

Michael Dennis Browne taught for 39 years at the University of Minnesota. His book, The Voices, comes out this winter from Carnegie Mellon. He has also written many works for music, working principally with composer Stephen Paulus. Browne's website is

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