When, if Ever?

I wrote this poem in 1995 while in active addiction. I was at that jumping off point where I was struggling, drowning, and yet I couldn’t make any sensible decision that would help turn the tide. When I started bringing booze into the office and starting my mornings drinking a cold beer in the shower, I knew something was terribly wrong. I hated myself. I could not make eye contact with myself in the mirror when shaving. I truly believed I would never be able to find the humanity that was buried deep within my soul.

When, if Ever?

Silent and alone,
I sit and stare into the sun
And wonder when, if ever,
I will walk the face of this planet
In complete harmony with myself.

Steven Barto, 1995


Death, a Poem

Does it have wings,
Or just claws?
Giant talons of razor-sharp finality
Carrying us away.
Is it the end, or just a sort of limbo?
Is it fair?
A true measure of retribution and penance,
Equal in proportion to the evil we have spread.
Does it give over to eternity,
Or does it simply close the door on what was?
Can it be cheated,
Or does it always have the last laugh?
When it strikes at an early age, is it off course,
Or is death always on time?
Can it ever be bargained with?
And, if so, what would be the price?

© 2016 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

Ronnie’s Leap

Dedicated to the memory of my friend, Ronnie Benner, who killed himself by jumping off  the Shikellamy State Park lookout.

I keep playing it over and over
In my mind; he leaps again and again.
He climbs over the fence
And steps to the edge of all his yesterdays,
The breeze making his hair dance.
He has become unable to remember pleasure,
Thinking only of pain;
He is smothered in a blanket heavy with malaise;
No one to talk to,
No chance for release.
He takes one last step,
Then he’s gone.

April is National Poetry Month

In case I hadn’t mentioned it earlier, April is National Poetry Month. A special time to pause and think about what poetry means to you. Perhaps re-read your favorite piece. Or, maybe you are sitting at your desk composing a few lines of verse that simply take you away, reminding you of emotions, memories, smells, tastes, loves, and fears. Why does poetry matter? Poetry lives and thrives in the grey area of ambiguity. In the place of always becoming but never quite being. That’s what it does best. It hints; it suggests; it insinuates, often without resolving into anything concrete. Whether it rhymes or scans or just dumps words onto a page, what makes poetry poetry is its ability to hover in a place where things can be and not-be, both at the same time.

Poetry and metaphor go together like cookies and milk. They help us deal with much more than just contradiction or ambiguity. Metaphor is about association and resonance and connectivity. The snow is a blanket upon the earth. The blanket keeps me toasty warm. Metaphor creates connections and resonances among the things of the world. It catches us up in a net of relationships. It makes the world vibrate: touch one string, and another hums along. Where there is no metaphor, though, nothing is like anything else, and nothing reverberates. Without poetry and metaphor, the world is just a jumble of discrete objects resting on a lonely plane.

Consider the following poem from Tyler Knott Gregson’s “Chasers of the Light: Poems From the Typewriter Series.”

She walked past like it was nothing,
like she had walking feet
and I had staring eyes,
and her scent followed behind.
It stayed when she left,
it found a way to stick to me.
She smelled like 5 a.m.
when it is far enough into the year
for light to play that early.
She smelled like rain that came
when the sun stayed out,
and for a moment it felt like
Mother Nature tripped
and spilled a bag of diamonds.
She smelled like home,
but the kind that is made
not bought, with memories
plastered like wall paper,
and still filled with the ghost
of whoever I was
before she walked past.

Untitled Poem by Julia Alvarez

The evil eye, a look more common than
you think, a daily way we see the world
colored by what we need so that the world
is a movie for our entertainment
and strangers we marry or give birth to
are villains or best friends of the hero
in the film we project of our ego’s
Perilous Journey. Someone who sees you
with too much emotion cannot see you,
and that, more than hocus-pocus, is what
it means to cast an evil eye. I’m not
one to talk since lately I don’t seem to –
except in writing – take anyone to heart
and love them in person. Lie there, my art.