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Sample Poems by Walter Bargen

Riddled Prelude

Traffic stutters, stops, congested with the language of appointments, syntax of deals, the speeding present, glistening chrome futures, where right, left, and straight are clearly visible. He hoists himself onto the green bus bench. He struts back and forth above his idling congregation, facing down the exhaust-streaked walls of semi’s. He looks up from the opened black book he balances chest high on his rigid left arm. His right arm swings down repeatedly splitting the grain of air, kindling the faith. The bounce of plastic-beaded necklaces cascades afternoon light over his black robes. In front of the Mexican Restaurant advertising a three-taco lunch special, he shouts to the holy wheeling street.

It’s little different for the woman who cuddles and rocks her baby cradled in her left arm. When it’s time for the child to crawl, to step away and grasp the world by the playful throat, the child uses only one small hand and arm. The other remains at its chubby side, as if the child is clairvoyant and already knows there is only one way to defy the riddle. Two greedy hands, an unnecessary complication and proselytizing takes only one good swing.

With two legs and one hand, the baby defies the sphinx. This time there is no Creon to claim a kingdom, no Jocasta equal to the weight of the answer, no Oedipus to haunt mothers for millennia. The diagnosis: stroke in the womb, a premature thunder clap that welded one arm in place, leaving only one hand to praise congested Theban traffic.

Cold Wet Morning

“It’s called a Spartan shower,” Jake shouts. That doesn’t stop the complaints pouring from the second floor bathroom.

At first the slapping sounds innocent enough, school of salmon leaping up the cataract of wooden stairs. The house shakes, the medicine cabinet crashes to the sink. Now there’s a choice, three pink pills or three shards of mirror to swallow.

The walls are thin enough to swim through. He hears lunging: the shower curtain torn down, the gasping gills of something trying to squeeze down the drain.

A fishy smell drifts along the hall into the kitchen. Jake’s lumpy oatmeal is pale as belly-up flounder pounded on the rocks of Tristan de Cunha.

The door flung open, her hair slicked back, Stella stands naked, an immaculate tuna blue, scales of ice clinging to her eyebrows. In a salty soprano, she sings, “We’re drowning in two stories of cold.”

New Waves on Old Water

Stella travels two thousand miles to sweep up the dust of another relative. Whole mountain ranges pass below her quicker than dreams. She perches on the edge of a continent.

Because they cannot see each other, they cannot exchange diseases though the distant unease is worse. Though they cannot share a bottle of wine their separate glasses overflow with a blush of light. There is a smeared stain in the air like a burning city. Over the phone, he hears her say that’s the sun setting over the Pacific.

The trees drop all their leaves. Each leaf falls into its own winter. They heap up words so the fire will thaw whatever has frozen. They throw children in and see how brightly they burn: one in Mexico, one repeatedly breaking his collar bone like a twig of kindling. Another crosses borders, not to flee old wars, but to escape into the skirmishes of marriage.

In a house facing west, Stella sits through the evening. The relentless line of horizon breaks through her. Waves claw the beach, dragging back the half-alive. Slicking the sand, the tide arrives like a rash. Plumes of water crown the tops of rocks. She feels a salty spray blow across her face. Marooned in the forgotten middle of a continent, Jake strolls uneasily looking around at what they’ve forged of old seas.