Tuesday 27 June 2023

Five Poems by Walter Bargen


Domestic Doubts

Hobbes is back. Tooth and claw.

This time with two handles

running vertically down the refrigerator.

Metal doors the white slate

we scrawl snarling our hungers upon.

What I grab to pull is plastic,

A black slash between earth and shelved sky.

The bathroom floor is a mottled blankness

covering years of trampled discourse

on the body’s tenuous times.

A New Yorker lies closed

beside the toilet. The cover a distant red

clapboard farmhouse, barn,

weathered rubies on the crown of a hill.

The grey sludge of an unpaved road runs past.

The speechless sentinels of two telephone poles

triumphant over the snow. A few scratched

blades of dead grass leaves us with the illusion

of perspective, a dwindling,

how we all disappear in the distance of paper.

Lunch. I’m searching for leftovers.

The cat once described by a five-year-old

as an angel with a (grey) rug on its back

sharpens its claws on an arm

of the couch. Threads snap,

strings of a music that can no longer be heard.

There’s a half-dozen cottage cheese

containers with mismatched lids.

A brief philosophical history of gluttony

or miscalculation. Outside it’s a relaxed afternoon

reduced to melting. Only the north slope

blanked in a frozen shroud.

The refrigerator un-resurrected.

We only guess at the gods we worship.


Great Salt Lake


A thousand miles ago, and so it’s not so strange

Stopping the small nearly worn out sedan in a rutted,

puddled parking lot, the snow melt enough to erase

the boot-sucking signatures of hunters weighted

with rifles and pockets loaded with ammunition,

who have abandoned their pickups helter-skelter,

as if there was something more to hurry toward

other than a few more certain small deaths.

Edging the parking lot, ten-feet high cane,

Lines perfect and clean as an advertisement

For an orderly life, or maybe an encircling privacy screen

Where no one can look out and what’s left inside

Is nothing we want to see, mud the only thing

Not frozen. We walk the road deeper into the slough,

The ice-hard channels almost canal straight.

We turn to see the mountains rise over our shoulders.

Her cell phone rings, it’s a half-mile slow-walk

Conversation with her sister, my wife, a thousand miles

Away. The low clouds scroll out their immutable,

Untranslatable grey tablets promising commandments of snow.

The hunters and their dogs are beginning to turn toward their trucks.

A few on bikes, their rifles slung across their backs,

Others walk on the broad avenues of ice

Dragging sleds, ropes tied to their waists,

Their heavy-coated, blunt bodies something out of Breughel.

My wife seeks pastoral counseling,

How to choose a church. She’s taking aim at belief.

Before us the abrupt rise of the snow clad

Wasatch Mountains defy the clouds.

Ultima Thule


This is the day I forget to forget

that this day will never

be so carefree and careless again.


A cold stone tossed coldly

into the pond. I huddle close to shore.

The stalk of every cattail shivers,

small angular dirt clods tumble down the bank,

into the water, smaller waves ricochet, cross

and recross themselves, diminished penitents

returning to their center where I will last as long

as I tread water as if practicing for a shipwreck .


Half life? Half alive? Halfway and one step

more. Halfway back not the way.

Then much less than half even as the rising

of autumn’s harvest moon aims its full barrel

of light at the field embalmed in a photo

on the kitchen calendar.


The linear accelerator whirs around me,

dives at the narrow table and forces me

to lie still. Now I’m told it’s called stereotactic body

radiation therapy. It’s all in a name. Conan,

where are you, defend me from this barbarian?


Two hip and one pubic tattoo centered

below my navel, keep the beams aligned

as it burns away rampantly dividing cells

that are busy burying me.

Little League


Was it extending my tongue to lick

one too many envelopes: electric,

water, gas, phone bills, the regular dose

of glue month after month for decades?


Was it grinding a lifetime of coffee,

each morning the whirling electric motor

radiating a counter-high electromagnetic field

as I leaned in to smell the rich aroma?


Was it that I didn’t start drinking coffee

until I was 29, needing

something to keep me moving

through the diesel fumes, dodging

bulldozers, backhoes, and toppling cranes.


Was it the strontium-90, cesiuM-137, iodine-137,

Americium-241, drifting across the 1950s A-bomb-tested

continent, drifting over our young bodies, turning us into

down-winders, as they did their best to destroy us,

calling it safety, defence, security?


Was it the chlorine, fluoride, hormones,

Teflon, aluminum pots, micro-plastics swirling

in every glass and swimming pool that flowed

over and through us each summer,

then reduced to endless acronyms: DDT, BPA?


Was it knocking over salt shakers one

too many times and forgetting to throw

a pinch over a left or right shoulder,

confusing which side is most effective

at avoiding collateral damage?


Was it the mismatched socks

that were a growing imbalance,

a stumbling stride, heading

in too many directions

for my mutating molecules?


Was it living too close to

high voltage electric lines

and Roundup sprayed along

their meandering across creeks  

and down into valleys?


Was it the fungus a friend claims

is the root of all bodily evil?

Was it sticking my head out

the back seat window of a ‘58


green Oldsmobile to inhale

the sweet petroleum fumes

in the gas station on our way

to little league baseball games?

Return to the Sea


And the astonished children, not knowing

where they came from and soon not caring,

only the day’s chase down the beach

reminds them of how much farther they must go.


Surrounded by chaotic gulls, their comma splices

marking the sky’s vast run-on sentence, the opening

and closing apostrophes of their wings, the unhinged

mewling, and the children with their own breaking


cries as the tide ebbs, pulls back with the worn out

until the wearing down leaves both of them translucent,

and the wind excites the sand sweeping the grains

of older worlds into finer shadows.

Walter Bargen has published 26 books of poetry including:  My Other Mother’s Red Mercedes (Lamar University Press, 2018), Until Next Time (Singing Bone Press, 2019), Pole Dancing in the Night Club of God (Red Mountain Press, 2020), You Wounded Miracle, (Liliom Verlag, 2021), and Too Late To Turn Back (Singing Bone Press, April, 2023). He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).  His awards include: a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Chester H. Jones Foundation Award, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award.    He currently lives outside Ashland, Missouri, with his wife and cats.

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