Barbara Brown Koons
October 26, 1935- June 23, 2021
The Clock-Maker’s Daughter
Beyond the counter where I stand,
the door into the workroom frames
her portrait like a small Renoir-
her face, the focal point of light,
eyes steady blue beneath the blond
hair falling smooth upon a white
blouse, its collar edged in lace.
Perched on a stool, she leans toward her father’s hands, her own hands clasped.
She’s tucked one foot beneath her;
the other, in a pink sock, swings free.
I have brought in the antique clock
from my grandfather’s pharmacy;
It lies before the clock-maker,
its hands and face removed. I watch
the child’s eyes follow her father's hands
as he probes into brass and steel.
The image of the two of them,
intent among the rosewood tones
and shadows of mahogany,
turns in my mind, an old key
unlocking a familiar door-
where Grandfather halves a tulip bulb
to show me how the flower hides,
it isn’t there when parchment
layers fall away. My clock
begins its slow tick-tock,
blending into other clocks,
like water running slow as melting snow.
I see the suns and moons revolve
in unison, and understand
the click of memory that stops
within another time and place
and then swings on, I am
still there, in the pharmacy,
with its tall rows of wooden drawers,
medicinal odors of peppermint,
camphor cloves, cod-liver oil-
still the child who sits
beside her grandfather at work,
perched on a stool, breathing in
the scents of his mysterious trade-
and at the same time, I am here,
part of today, in this small shop
where my memory swings, like her foot,
back and forth, back and forth.
- in Night Highway (2004)
My father caged paper lions
with matchstick bars;
folded, pasted, painted, strung
a toothpick trapeze from a fishing line;
and The Greatest Show On Earth
paraded across our dining-room floor
into a tablecloth tent;
marching to brass razz-ma-tazz
only we could hear.
Our small ringmaster
in his red-crayon jacket
into the vacuum cleaner
along with several monkeys and a clown;
our elephants were overcome
by the roaring wind of its maw,
until today, with my own children
seated in a steel arena
higher than a trapeze glides-
far below, a ringmaster
with my father’s eyes
snaps a whip-crack recognition.
My cardboard circus shimmers
in white-striped zebra light,
flashing me back,
back into a dusty tent
billowing luminous as a balloon,
with tigers bursting red
through orange paper fire;
drums, trumpets, dancing clowns,
popcorn, peanuts, souvenirs-
The ringmaster bows
with my father’s smile, tells me,
“Take your circus home with you,
tucked into a secret pocket,
slide your childhood tongue around it,
taste glitter, grit and straw.
it’s your chameleon, green and fleeting;
your pink and peacock feather bird,
singing in a yellow wind,
a purple pasteboard sky.”
-In Night Highway
About her childhood:
"While Father was at work at the store, Mother might be playing her violin with friends in a string trio or quartet in our dining room. Our house was filled with paint and ink and paper and color and music; odd meals at odd hours; people sleeping in the daytime and laughing, smoking, and talking into the night. It all seemed perfectly normal to me..."
- in: Tears, Prayers and Chocolate Sodas (1985)
Barbara and her little sister Linda watch
their father at his drafting table
Barbara's mother, Anna Von Endt Brown
About her grandmother,
Nora Steltz Brown
Pert, bright, brown-eyed, her demeanor and bearing resembled the birds she loved. She fed wild birds in the yard, flapping over the grass in apron-flinging frenzies to chase away cats and crows; and she kept tame canaries caged in her kitchen window, where she led their chorus with her own warbling whistle. She could whistle better than most men or boys- clear, bell tones, that rang in harmonies of her own creation.
- in: Tears, Prayers and Chocolate Sodas
About her grandfather,
Hugh Maurice Brown
Long-boned and thin, with a fringe of white hair and a steady blue gaze, Grandfather was a quiet man who never hurried. He walked slowly, talked slowly, and was methodical in all his habits. Hanging loose on his spare frame, his clothes always seemed slightly too large; baggy trousers, rough fabrics, an itchy wool cardigan with wooden buttons. But his was a sturdy, protective masculine lap; his arms an unassailable haven from whatever terrors, real or imaginary, might be pursuing a child. A deliberate, contemplative man, he lived in rhythm and harmony with life and time passing.
- in: Tears, Prayers and Chocolate Sodas
Nora Steltz Brown and Hugh Maurice Brown
She was a senior at Mansfield High when she published her first story, "Music from Mars" in the November 1953 issue of Seventeen Magazine.
After the kids left for college and work, she completed her MFA at Indiana University in 1995
Barbara publshed poetry in many journals in Indiana over several decades. She published a single acclaimed book of poems, Night Highway, in 2004.