I Wrote a Poem Once While Sleeping

I wrote a poem once while sleeping,
Each line flowing into the next, flawlessly fitting,
As easy as knitting (remembering Grandma).
It was as if I could not stop, I could not fail.
Although the words were like building blocks,
As if I were erecting the world’s greatest skyscraper,
It was not about architecture.
It was not even about substance.
It was, dare I say it?
Poetic.
Truly rhythmical, imaginative and melodious.
Not epic. Not really. But not the least bit commonplace.
I was soaring. Becoming one with the atmosphere.
Unstoppable. Insatiably gluttonous for words.
Dining on the abstract. Gobbling up the abstruse.
It seemed as though I could write forever.
And then the alarm clock went off.

©2015 Steven Barto

The Encounter in the Desert

He stood, sweating, gazing over the vastness
of what looked like nothingness; hot, glaring,
monochromatic landscape, broken only by an
occasional dune. His eyes batted against the
stinging bits of sand encircling his head as He
tried to catch His breath. He was, after all, Jesus
in a mortal body.

He was hungry. He had not eaten for the past
forty days. He caught sight of an approaching
figure surrounded by piercing light. The desert
floor began to vibrate. The figure was enormous
in size, and seemed to exude tremendous power.

As if reading His mind, the figure said, “Tell
these stones to become bread.” In response,
Jesus took a confident breath and said, “It is written:
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Although Jesus stood his ground, the figure reached
toward Him and whisked Him away.

Now, Jesus and the figure were at the Holy City,
standing on a steeple. The figure said, “If you
are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is
written, ‘He will command his angels concerning
you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that
you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put
the Lord your God to the test.'” The figure was
persistent in his provocation, reaching toward Jesus
again, spiriting Him away to a very high mountain,
where he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world
in all their splendor and beauty and majesty.

“All this I will give you,” said the figure,
“If you will bow down and worship me.”
“Away from me,” Jesus said, “For it is written:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
Jesus could not be tempted or drawn away,
nor did He lose His faith in God, as a result
of his encounter with the devil in the desert.

©2016 Steven Barto

Monarch Butterfly

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find a poem I wrote in the Spring of 2016 after searching archived National Geographic Magazine articles for a teacher who wanted to do a lesson on butterflies.

I am a Monarch Butterfly. I was a mere larvae a few days ago. Just hatched from my chrysalis this morning. I looked up toward the tree top and started climbing,
Climbing, climbing, finally reaching the top of the giant tree.
The sunlight was bright and overwhelming.

When I first saw the others, there were more than a dozen, and my enthusiasm grew with their numbers. It took a few minutes to realize the extent of what I was seeing. One hundred of my fellow cousins fluttering against a blue sky, wing tips touching. Simply breathtaking.

Seeing one million Monarchs swerving and soaring above me,
Realizing there were more in the trees waiting for the right moment
to open their wings and join us,
Felt like nothing short of a miracle.

I looked below as a woman cocked her head to the sky, cupping her hands
behind her ears. The husband leaned over and whispered, “Listen.” His bride grinned from ear-to-ear as she heard the butterflies flapping their wings
Against the air, sounding like a rainstorm falling on verdant forest.

Suddenly, thousands of butterflies above me began to let go of the branches they’d been desperately clinging to and poured into the sky;
I felt the wind from their wings as they soared around me.
I got lost in the swirling kaleiodoscope pattern they made against the sun.

I know butterflies aren’t noted for emotion, but I was filled with an inexplicable surge of energy that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. We looked like orange confetti setting the sky ablaze. At about two hundred yards above the tree, we all turned right and headed to North America, where summer awaits.

Imperfect

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find one of my poems. This one was quite fun to write.

I was inspired several years ago to write a poem that addresses the “academic” approach to poetry. I drew from some related experiences as a high school student where my work was challenged as being faulty, outside of the box, incorrect. Yet it was prose. It was fiction. It was poetry. I’ve heard it said relative to screenwriting that it’s okay to break the rules. But it is critical that we first understand and know those rules. I’m okay with that. But I got caught up in the moment of a memory from 9th grade English.

The following poem is the result.

I sat, submissively. You stood, towering.
You, the PhD. Me the struggling artist.
My thumbnail kept picking at the edge
of the nail on my index finger.
My writing hand index finger. Odd.
You told me my poem was “okay,”
but it was not perfect.
So what, then, it was imperfect?
Faulty? Flawed? Defective? Unsound?
Wait, this was a “free verse” assignment.
It was meant to not have a regular meter.
It was supposed to simply “be.”
Perhaps my poem had “imperfect vision.”
Imperfectus: incomplete.
So you’re saying it was “missing something.”
Perhaps you don’t like unrestrained boundaries.
Your failure to appreciate poetry that is
absent fixed metrical pattern does not mean
my work has failed as poetry.
Non-metrical, non-rhyming lines often
closely follow the natural rhythms of speech.
Perhaps this is the very purpose of
an imperfect poem.

©2016 by Steven Barto

Morning Breaks

Morning breaks, tugging at me,
seeking me out, inviting me
into the light.
Groggy but aware,
I sit up and run my hand through my hair.
The sun is dazzling,
Slicing through the curtains and
Warming a patch of carpet
Next to the bed.

I look at the clock on the nightstand and grin.
I see I’ve beaten the alarm again;
Five minutes to spare. Good deal!
No squawking buzzer; instead a
Slow gentle return to awareness,
The last dreamy thoughts receding into
Their hiding place,
Content to wait patiently for me
Until I come back for them again,
Later tonight.
Every day should begin this way.

©2016 Steven Barto

Logan’s Outlook

The following poem is one I wrote as an homage to my nephew, Logan, who was stricken with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in the first few months of his life. SMA is a type of muscular dystrophy. He interacts with the world from atop his power chair. Very smart and observant. Loves sports, especially football. Favorite team: The Steelers. I truly love and admire Logan and wanted to write something that would at least hint at the great young man he is despite his situation.

He towers tall over his tiny kitten, sitting in his power chair,
Simply smiling, sentient, all but savvy,
Knowing how happy and blessed is he;
Bound to his chair, yet free; intelligent enough to win a spelling bee.

Packed to the top of his brain with stats,
Possessing the soul of a global travel brat;
He sails around the world without leaving his home,
Able to rant and roam.

Reading the riot act to his opponent in
Call of Duty: Black Ops, not focusing on what he can’t do;
Applying aptitude and attitude to a challenging life of
Adversity and affliction, admonishing God just won’t do.

Admiring the capable child or athlete with an appreciation
For the frolic and revelry they show and tell,
Thrilled with the entertainment they present,
And the wonderful competition they wage.

Logan’s outlook obviously embodies an ostensible
Conclusion that, regardless of what he bears,
He will always be thrilled with being alive,
Content to learn and thrive.

©2016 Steven Barto

a man of all sorts

He stepped into the sunlight,
Squinting,
Glad for the freedom, yet
Confused about what to do.

Life began pushing in
Before
He was capable of
Pushing back.

It’s not that he was
Young
Or inexperienced; rather
He skipped maturity,

Straight to mid-twenties,
Deficient
Of the caution and brains
That come from participation.

His old man said he was
Nothing;
That his life would be
Garden-variety.

Why not rebel? Why not
Run?
What’s the point of
Even trying to be, to do?

Who can begin to
Save
Him from dime-a-dozen
Failure and doom?

They said he’d never
Bloom;
That he’d simply exist
Like a speck of dirt

Lying under the bed
Far
From reach of the broom,
Crusty and peevish;

Totally lacking in
Relevance,
As if life was already over
And the bring-about was nil.

©2017 Steven Barto

The Roof (Reprise)

Up here
on the roof,
I am tall,
taller than all,
at the apex:
not of height,
nor of stature;

just here
at the edge
where anything
is possible:
creativity,
destruction,
enlightenment,
apostasy;
whatever I choose
begins up here
at the edge
of heaven and hell

where God waits,
and angels watch;
where birds soar
without awareness
of my struggle,
or my questions,
or my potential,
good or bad;

below, a community
ekes out its
existence,
parading
up and down
the streets
and avenues,
with no inkling
of what comes
next;

life in
pieces, its
very blood spilled
on the macadam
of tomorrow.

©2017 Steven Barto

The above is a revised version of my initial poem The Roof. Something was missing. Then it hit me: This is a commentary on the increased gun violence in America. It is not an anti-gun poem. It is not an anti-Second Amendment poem. It is an annotation on an extremely prevalent and entirely serious problem. American citizens are killing each other at a rate higher than in any other industrialized nation. We’re using every imaginable weapon and method, from bludgeoning to strangulation; from stabbing to poisoning. We just happen to be using GUNS at an alarming rate. The closing stanza uses the phrase “its very blood spilled on the macadam of tomorrow.” THIS reference is about gun violence.

Failure Through Folly

“Failure through folly,
that’s what I worry about,” I told Molly.
Conjecture on my part
can lead to lecture on his
as he seeks simply to enlighten
me, redirecting my silly sideshow of
dizzying daydreams and lack
of capacity for responsibility;

how easily I’m distracted without
thinking how impacted everyone
else can be when I fail to
nail reality on the head;
you know, like when I misplace
my hammer;

how could I know it would snow
on the same day I’d leave the window
up a smidgen and my furry feline
would wander, thinking the whiteness
was merely bright softness
and not deadly coldness?

©2017 Steven Barto

Jimmy

It was gray, chilling to the bone,
with dry leaves getting tangled
in her hair.
Her thoughts were viscous-like;
she could actually hear them
sloshing in her head.

She stumbled, hesitated,
reaching for a tree trunk.
Suddenly there was
a commotion in the water,
just thirty yards out;
someone splashing, no,
struggling,
fighting for their life.

The woman cried out,
then sprinted for the edge
of the lake not bothering
to take off her heavy coat.

Spectators started to gather
(the path around the reservoir
was popular among joggers
and walkers), and it wasn’t
long before police and fire
rescue had arrived.

Later, at the hospital, the woman’s
daughter asked why she went
into the water.
“To save your brother. To save Jimmy!”
“Oh mom, Jimmy’s been gone for years.”

©2017 Steven Barto