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.

©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

The Dust of an Old Era

I sat at my old high school desk,
smelling the lingering aroma
of another time,
pulling me backward.

My name was still there,
scratched on the inside
next to a crusty old piece
of Bazooka.
Who would have expected it
to still be there?

I closed my eyes and heard
the joys and sorrows
of twelfth grade
(teenage angst still palpable at fifty).
I was lost in memories
of her, my first true love.

I heard her voice
echoing off the
paint-peeled walls
of home room.
If only I could go back
for a season;
just for a moment.

Things seemed simple then, yet
somehow complicated;
Unsure.
I feared this joy would
never last; that I would never feel
love again. Surely all this
would vanish, leaving
nothing but an inkling
of what could have been.

She was twenty-two when
she left for Europe
with our daughter—never coming back,
she said. Leaving me to my
faults and failures.

Did she ever love me?
I wondered.
Probably.
I smiled and
wrote her name on
the filthy top of my
school desk
covered in the
dust of an old era.

© 2019 Steven Barto

The Roof

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
by the handguns
of a thousand
angry, disenfranchised men,

rudderless,
willing to take
everyone
with them
into the
crevasse where
not even light
can escape.

©2017 Steven Barto

It’s Christmastime!

This is the 3rd year I’ve reblogged this original piece I wrote about what Christmastime was like growing up. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, only six days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014