a man of all sorts

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

Life began pushing in
He was capable of
Pushing back.

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

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

His old man said he was
That his life would be

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

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

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

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

Totally lacking in
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:
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
up and down
the streets
and avenues,
with no inkling
of what comes

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


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,
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


Some days, absent the need for
complete inactivity –
as when frenetic events
force a dead calm –
it seems as though I
choose to lull,
bobbing ever so slightly
on the water,
barely breaking the
cohesion of the
surface tension;

I allow the sun to
cook my fair skin and
bleach my already
blond locks,
and I hear the
slow formation of a
spectacular thunderstorm;

Although sometimes deadly,
such a storm will,
without fail,
relieve, for a while,
the heavy, humid heat
that is my life


©2017 Steven Barto


Why Do I Feel So Empty?

Why do I feel so empty?
Eyes closed, I see
Only gray.
Not even darkness.

I hear my heart thumping
In my head and
I wonder why
I’m even here.

I clasp my hands together
As if in prayer;
Maybe I’m hoping my
Inherited faith will
Accord me some dimension.

This cold emptiness
Undermines me, and,
To an extent, adds
To my predicament.

Too many things interrupt
My awareness of meaning,
Which feeds my

I vacillate, not sure
If it is “I” that believes
Or my ancestors
Believing through me.

If my meaning has been
Stamped on my heart by
Someone else, someone
Who is not me,
Someone who is less than God,
Then it is a phony meaning,
And is, perhaps, why I
Feel so empty.

©2017 Steven Barto

Dave and the Girl (A Not so Attractive Story)

Dave and I caught her.
We were all out of breath
From chasing her down the
Shore of the lake.
It was Dave who put her
Up against a big tree;
He wouldn’t let her go.
I kept hoping Mr. Snyder
Would come out
And start down to the lake
To cast for his lunch.

Sun would be up soon.
Dave was pulling up
The front of her dress
To the point where
He shouldn’t.
He started reaching
Inside her dress
Just as I retched.

I was sweating terribly
And shaking all over.
This is just not right!
Just not right!
I looked around, and
Just before Dave put his
Hands where they don’t belong,
I struck him hard in the
Back of the head with
A large rock.

Dave fell flat on his back,
At the feet of the girl,
Eyes open, not moving.
She was smiling, almost
Sickly glad.
She kicked him in the side
And spat in his face.

She thanked me with a big hug
And a peck on the cheek,
Then ran along the edge
Of the lake,
Heading north,
Disappearing in the fog.

©2017 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 Mourn

Oh, how I mourn
a relationship
I never had;
I dream of days
I never owned.
How can true love
fall apart?
I reflected how
Disrespected you must
have felt in your
to throw it all

As I let it
sink in, the
booze and the
drugs, and the
I stood where you
stood, and I
felt what you felt,
you stayed at all.

At the end, on
the day I thought
would never come,
you said,
“I don’t think I
love you.”
I winced when
you continued:
“I’m not sure I
ever loved you,
But I do know I
don’t lie like you

I adored you for
a season,
but we married for
a reason that could
not be sustained;
there is no more

© 2017 Steven Barto

Can I Be Real?

Can I be real?
Just for a moment anyway.
(Any longer and I may
start hating myself all over again.)
I stand before you,
less than an artist,
but hoping to appeal
to your kinder side.

You reach for me at times
in frustration, not meaning
to endanger
our entanglement.
Certainly, we revel in the
dance of our emotions.
In fact, they seem to form
who we are when we’re

We don’t know how to
be apart. From
the start there was nothing
other than us.
(I stayed with you the first
night you moved into your
new house, and every night after
for six months.)

I try standing taller
whenever you approach me,
but I feel less than you.
I am no alpha male; rather,
I shrink
in your presence,
I think,
a superiority
you cannot help but

The booze, for me,
is liquid courage, but
I’m like the porridge Red
could not accept
until the third bowl.
I cannot,
even with all my might,
measure up to your abilities.

As if a serving of porridge,
I am not necessarily cold; just, I don’t
know, maybe
but not sustenance.

I could never be the
writer you are. I’m unable
to see the things
you see.
No harm, really. It’s not
as though I’ve suffered
a dashed dream.

It would seem I
am merely not able to push my
feelings up from
deep within my gut, down my
into my hands and fingers, and
onto the page.
I am not capable of
translation like you are.

I know the language,
and can grunt a
word or two, but the
fact is I fail to
get the words out
at the same intensity
I am feeling them

Tragic in a way.
It’s as if the one thing
I do best,
That is, to feel,
is not enough.
is not for me.

Oh, I would love to be
a writer, sure,
but what kind of art form
involves a depressed
and anxious soul
belting out his insecurities?
No one wants to read about
worms eating at my heart,
depleting my love for life:
or gnats buzzing in my head,
distracting me from
my deeper thoughts.
(My ruminations and such.)

So, no, I won’t write.
I’ll let storytelling and
prose, and poetry, and
activities of expression
such as these to
the real writer.

© 2017 Steven Barto