Can I Be Real?

Can I be real
just for a moment?
(If I linger I might
start hating myself
all over again.)
I stand before you,
a boyfriend, but
not a partner,
appealing to
your kinder side.

You reach for me,
seemingly annoyed
but not meaning
to endanger
our entanglement.
We wallow in
our emotions—
they seem to form
who we are when
together.

We don’t know how to
be apart. From
the start
there was nothing
other than us;
no such thing as apart.
(Your mother
said you were
addicted to me.)

I try to stand
proud
when you approach,
but I feel “less than”
next to
you.
No alpha male, I
shrink in your
presence, crushed by
a superiority
you cannot not help but
ooze.
Booze is my
liquid courage.


I write, but I cannot
(even with all my might)
measure up to the
abilities of others.
I could never
be the writer
you are. I’m unable
to see what you
see.
I can’t push my
feelings up from
deep within my gut,
down my arm,
into my hands
and fingers,
onto the page.


I am not capable of
translation like you are.
I know the language,
and can grunt a
word or two, but I
fail to
get the words out
at the same intensity
I feel them
inside.

Tragic in a way.
It’s as if the one thing
I do best,
to feel,
is not enough.
Maybe writing
is just not
for me.
No one wants to
read about worms
eating at my heart,
feeding on my
desire
for life or about
gnats buzz
in my head,
distracting me from
my deeper thoughts.

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

© 2017, 2021 Steven Barto

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

Dream On

Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don’t hesitate
to cut somebody’s heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
The family dog howls at night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial?
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their seashores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don’t
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there’s that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but ever present.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken, urbane and witty.
When alone, rare occasions, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn’t:
“And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors  back from the dead -”
poetrywise it’s still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven’t scribbled a syllable of it.
You’re a nowhere man misfiring,
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life,
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day’s extravagant labor.
And yet it’s cruel to expect too much.
It’s a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream –
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
and then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain it its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.

James Tate

Swing

My good friend David J. Bauman has been a poet for longer than I know. I had the privilege of working with him at the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland, PA for about a year before he took a position at the Plains Township Library. Seems I met David at the right time in my career (life?). He taught me a great deal about poetry and coached me in establishing and maintaining this blog of mine.

I’ve been writing poems since I was a teenager. Many of them never saw daylight. They remained closed up in old journals, existing but unrealized. Forgotten. (Several never even made the journey out of my imagination, down the pen and unto paper.) Meeting David, however, quickened something in me. Words and phrases that had suffered sequestration due to lack of rectitude somehow found a rebirth. I began to believe that my words had meaningfulness.

But this post is not about me. Rather, it is about showcasing a poem David wrote which has found a well-deserved home in Contemporary American Voices, a journal of poetry. June 1, 2014. I know you’ll enjoy it.

Swing

While I was waiting
for the bus, Miss Shaffer said
“Get off the gate!
It’s not for swinging.”

But I knew better.

Another, on the playground—
I don’t recall her name,
But she yanked
me by the arm, right off

the swing set, and screamed,
“Don’t call me ‘old Lady!’”
I was only trying to yodel
(Yodaladie, yodaladie…).

And one time I wasn’t doing anything,
so I was sent to the principal’s office.
That was when days were for doing
nothing when you could.

When swings were for singing
anything that came to mind.
Fences were just in the way
and every kid knew the truth;

gates do that for a reason,
and it goes against nature
not to swing them.

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 went off.

Gray (A Poem)

Sadness seems to demand gray;
Brighter hues just get in the way
Of wallowing, of wading through misery.

Does mood really affect color choice?
You wonder why you’re stuck all day
In a dull mood, dark, lost.

You’re “in the blues,” in a funk,
Your favorite color long gone, out of reach;
The brightness of yellow just a memory.

Metaphor is nearly tangible, touchable;
Saturation overwhelms you as your
Mood darkens, enveloping you.

White, sacred and pure, eludes you,
Hides from you, as you feel light years
Away from God and His angels.

No more innocence, no more hope;
No pleasant dreams,
Just horror and despair.

No freedom, no uncluttered openness;
Just the totality of gray, the
Absence of all color.

Gray, the hue of death, the shade of nothingness;
A tunnel devoid of light at the end,
The true opposite of hope.

Walk Me Home (by poulakose)

I received a copy of a post today with a great poem in it. I just had to share it with you. If you enjoy it,check out more at https://memorphilia.wordpress.com. I think you’ll really like Red Birds posted May 8, 2015.

Walk me home
Where the lights burn
In an orange haze
Through the icy blue
Two arms surround me
In an ocean of night

Walk me home
Where the branches bend
In the smoke of Benson Hedges
Through the grey and gold
The skies part
In the flicker of a street lamp

Walk me home
Where the asphalt glints
In the silence of the cool rain
Through the shadows
A quiet violence falls
With shaking hands I hold tight

What Is A Poet?

What makes someone a poet?  Is it all about rhyming and sounding flowery?  Maybe it has to do with making profound statements or painting a picture with words.  Does it involve moving people to tears or creating an emotional surge?  Could it be all of the above?  Yes, it could.  Some of my favorite poems don’t include unified form, don’t rhyme, and don’t contain punctuation.  Others read in a certain rhythm and have an identifiable form.

The following is one of my most appreciated poems.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Mary Schmich