Five Poems by Walter Bargen

Collapsing into each other’s frozen arms

Three months of no rain and then an eighth of an inch in the next three months. Plains grass gone. Trees the color of grocery bags. Weeks of triple digit temperatures. No snakes, turtles, frogs. Fewer and fewer birds. Where to go as the burn widens?

Hudson Bay? Yeah, we could live in Churchill and sell Polar Bear memorabilia.

As the polar bear population crashes people will probably buy even more

furry figurines carved out of the last washed-up whale bones.

Two endangered species for the price of one. Could be lucrative. And after the last wild polar bear is gone they will probably change the name from Churchill to Polar Bear because we all love polar bears and the whippoorwills are nowhere to be heard.

For Robin Albee

The End of IT

We just have to go with it.

Believe we finally have made it.

Congratulate ourselves that we have survived it.

Even when it’s not over, not done, the count insufficient,

incomplete, inappropriate, just not enough,

and it looms large, larger than any one of us,

and over it all, over us, a sweltering shadow,

will it ever stop, will it begin again.

As if it ever stopped. So what’s next,

crying won’t do any good,

good meaning what, a few of us can make it

through another day, nerve gas and bombs

happening somewhere that we can’t pronounce,

hoses spraying water over children who inhaled

too deeply, their small bodies convulsing,

gasping for another moment, and we aren’t finished,

what can possibly go wrong?

Even when there is less of it,

we are children standing in the rain

arguing over running versus walking

which will soak us more or less,

whether the Inuit have 52

more or less words for snow

as the velocity of melting leaves us

standing knee deep in wet plastic on coastal streets,

we couldn’t know it at the time

even as we read the frozen entrails of augered ice cores

and page 6 or 8 of newspapers. Each day it looms larger,

our pronouns can no longer stand up to it.

We lie down in it never to get back up to face it

as we breathe the petrochemical air

of Beaumont each new day.

The Hunt

Air a steel door, fingers arthritic hinges.

They walk through. Cinch coats

Closer to their rusting bodies.

The road oiled with ice,

Surrendering to every direction but vertical.

Steps accumulate. Are they saying goodbye

As they must or is it too early?

Are they saying hello

But too early for a full accounting?

At every downturn, variations of gray

And brown. Surely the colors of grief.

Autumn having abandoned so much.

Surely the color of uncertainty.

So many promises unkept,

To keep, to cling to bright betweens.

Hills hold the valley.

Fold this way, fold that way─

Descent is not a choice.

The wind bulling desiccated leaves,

Leaves white scuffs on the ice

As they blow across the creek.

Water mindlessly fulfilling the widening banks.

The mottled brown gravel cut by time

Shuffles a losing hand of shells and crinoids.

Too soon back to the ridge.

Staring down as the water turns away.

Later bodies are resurrected from coats.

Much later she calls back. A hard blue

Folding case enclosing folded reading glasses.

Maybe on the road, the path. Maybe on

The gravel bar when bending to lift pale

Palm-sized shells empty of their mussels.

She calls back to ask him to continue.

Search now for what she hasn’t lost

In case there is a loss that she has not

Bothered to come to terms.

Hands or Not Hands

I’m told I have young hands

but how quickly they belong

to someone else.

Already the women with their

smooth backs, the moist pressure

of their lips upon a finger,

the longing of empty palms, are lost.

That’s what they say, those who are

bent and folding closed, their hands

sealed in thin paper and wax of age.

The address is not unwritten

in any tattered little book

shut in a dresser drawer.

The letter I worry will be returned,

stamped in red, undeliverable;

the reason checked, no forwarding

address, occupant misplaced.

My hands sagging sails on the Saragossa Sea,

deeply sun-wrinkled, broken by wind, by waves.

These ragged claws’ creaking grasp.

The chained, swollen-knuckled knocking,

comes from inside a sunken hull.

Decades sift through my fingers.

Hands work feverishly on defeat.

The war is over. They no longer take aim.

Only religion collects the severed hands.

Women still say I have young hands.

45th Holiday Greetings

He’s out of touch hiding in these vast plains.

His father calls for the first time in years.

The old man flunked out of college,

was dishonorably discharged from the army in ‘45,

divorced his mother and ran off with a stripper.

His girlfriend disappeared into the alleys of Dallas

where he has lived in the same rundown apartment

for thirty years. He checks his mail, anticipating

his lifetime honorary retirement subscription

to Porn, the weekly tabloid with its compilation

of lewd jokes and phone numbers promising

everything and more. He is its proud founding editor.

His son, a minister, a professor, an officer

in the Navy, mentions the one beyond X-rated movie

his father starred in, Rainbow Showers.

The old man is almost embarrassed to recall

his appearance sans clothing, the subject

erotic vomiting, woman after naked woman

puking down his belly and more.

His father says he’s seen more

desperately exploited clerks and secretaries.

Disregarding the AIDS epidemic, his film

simply depicts healthy fantasy, that’s all.

He wants to know, what else is there in this ant hill?

The son says Christmas shopping, it’s that time

of year, his granddaughter is twelve.

─for SWS

Walter Bargen has published 23 books of poetry. Recent books include: Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (BkMk Press, 2009), Trouble Behind Glass Doors (BkMk Press, 2013), Perishable Kingdoms (Grito del Lobo Press, 2017), Too Quick for the Living (Moon City Press, 2017), My Other Mother’s Red Mercedes (Lamar University Press, 2018), and Until Next Time (Singing Bone Press, 2019). His awards include: a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Chester H. Jones Foundation Award, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award.