Hatred

Anger Is Right. Rioting Is Wrong. - BNN BloombergOur country is reeling from systematic police violence against Black Americans. The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer— who put a knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes— has ignited a fire of protest. This is a new version of a poem I wrote several years ago.

That hatred you have for everyone,
that global anger,
it doesn’t matter how justified you are,
or how wrong the other person is.

You can fume and cuss and scream,
complain and blame,
but it’s just going to eat you alive.

You can get upset with me
for speaking this way,
give me the cold stare,
and refuse to talk to me,
but it won’t change a thing.

Hatred kills.

©1998 Steven Barto

Remembering

Sitting there frozen in
old memories, recalling our favorite
lines from Proust.
Trembling as I close my eyes,
hearing the joys and sorrows
of twelfth grade one last time.

I’m drowning in emotions; they tear at me,
pulling me beyond my fail safe
and I cringe, frightened.
Eyes wide shut, I misunderstand
the mirage, gazing at a chimara
of your face and I let out a sigh.

I catch glimpses of you across the meadow.
The sun dances through your hair;
your feet float above the grass
and you vanish behind our
favorite willow tree where my lips
first touched yours.

That summer of our wildness
was incomparable, a cruel yardstick
against which I’ve measured every
summertide of my later days,
struggling with the emptiness and
hollowness of everything not you.

If only I could un-lose you, hold you
securely, tightly, intensely,
like before.
Just for a moment, just for a season.
I reason with God—please let me keep
my first love.

Things were simple
back when I knew you.
Uncomplicated and sure. I smile
and reach for you—it’s second nature.
All this remembering has me
by the heart.

My present life is haunted—
I feel the warmth of you
on my sheets.
I catch faint remains of your sweet perfume,
and reach for something I can’t have.
Something I maybe never had.

©2020 Steven Barto

Colors Other Than Gray

A glimpse inside, riding the
tide of my emotions, until a
wave knocks me down near
the side of a stone jetty.
The lifeguard blows her whistle
and signals that I’m in danger;
I’m at risk;
too near injury to be left alone.

It’s sunny today, with
blue skies.
Background music of baritone
teens imitating the Ramones,
down the shore, just a quarter mile
from Barnegat Light.

I might, for the first time
in a long time,
be seeing life again as
it’s meant to be seen.
Feeling the warmth of our
giant solar orb on my face,
and catching glimpses of pretty young girls
in bikinis, clad in
colors other than gray.

© 2017 Steven Barto

“I’m Ready to Go.”

Lines, no, cracks
in the walls—
all of them,
and the ceiling too;
the kind that morph
while you stare,
unaware,
drifting back and forth
from what was and
what can be.

I started packing
this morning, slowly,
still rigid with fear
that it will all start
folding in on me again,
drowning my voice,
shackling me to the past
like a stake and chain
for a dog.

It’s not that I want
to stay—I don’t;
The air here smells
like sweat and sick
and just a hint of desperation;
sunlight barely pushing
itself through five years
of rain scum
on the window panes.

Now there’s a curious
metaphor for sure,
the half-decade-old
film of forgotten responsibility
and lost opportunity
weighing me down,
causing the clown of bloodshot eyes and
rotten flesh to reappear,
a thick blanket of fear
wrapping around me, squeezing,
trapping my breath.

Last month, last year,
the last thousand years,
packed full of regrets
so heavy I spent most days
in bed or in my broken recliner.
If my vision were clearer back then
maybe I could’ve
recognized where I was—
then I would’ve been
(at least a little) more
likely to head to the door,

and flinging it open,
giving the sunshine at least
half a chance of falling on
my emaciated body, warming
my bones and clearing
my brain—which is, frankly,
a prerequisite to
freedom—victory from
the bondage of
self-deprecation.

No bother, though, because
I’ve been flexing my
heart lately, strengthening
my muscle of
hope now that I’m off dope;
shocked yet relieved that
I’m done with all that and
ready for this, whatever
this is—
I’m ready to go.

©2020 Steven Barto

Hope

The flesh is a beggar,
Who comes as a thief;
His need is the one
That matters
Regardless the cost.

His damage
Cannot be calculated
For it is greater
Than the sum of
Each individual cost.

What human weapon
Can stand against wiles so great?
They defy survival;
Desire and instinct
Run wild, distorted, distracted.

Look up, my child,
Not down; nor within,
For no inverted view
Can lead to truth or
Freedom.

Your tears burn hot
On your cheek, an
Endless reminder of
Loss and heartache,
Refusing to let go.

Every failure, lived
Again and again,
Burdens your heart and
Slows your pulse to
A crawl.

Your song is out of
Tune, maleficent,
Sad and defeating,
And the choir
Is silent.

Worship seems to have
Run its course,
Leaving you spent on
The shore of a million
Pieces of broken dreams.

Darkness has stolen
Your light, but
Only for a season;
His light has crested
The horizon.

Lift your head, child,
And open your eyes; tell your
Ears to hear; command
Your vision to clear, and
Bask in the light of hope.

©2019 Steven Barto

These Pesky Grapes of Wrath

I stumbled.
Turning, I looked in the
Bathroom and saw the
Evidence.

Shower curtain torn,
Laying on the floor
In a pool of vomit.
Not again!

Powerless.
Not my favorite word
To say the least.
Sounds like, failure.

Small.
Sweet.
Fermented.
Steeped in brokenness.

Killer of relationships
Thief of dreams.
The mortar of excuses,
Able to destroy.

Yet impossible to
Resist
No matter the cost.
Regardless of consequence.

I know where it leads,
Yet I have no human capacity
To resist
These pesky grapes of wrath.

©2019 Steven Barto