Monday, June 16, 2014


Every time
Someone predicts
The world is coming to an end
It does

In some small infinite
And ponderable way

We are all breathless 
And changed

Fathom the unthinkable 
For a moment

And stop
As if you are the stops
Of an organ
That performs 
Extraordinary music

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Stab me with a sharp knife
It will only hurt as much as I allow
Goldfish understand
Because they swallow infinitely

c. Martin A. Bartels

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kentucky Sketches

The borders between us are largely
an invention, though one can cross
from one state to the next and in
some way know the world has changed.

It is a particularly perplexing moment
when I realize that no roads end,
though one can be surprised by
sudden turns and the misplaced hayfield.

Rolling westward into Kentucky,
somewhere off of I-64, there is a
sudden vacancy in the road as a
bridge spans the most unusual

valley, a sharp and verdant V
anchored by what might be called a
river or an errant thought that drifts
across the blue hills and blue smoke

of this land. I turn off in favor of the
black post-and-board fences and
low-slung drystone walls, late-summer
flowers and tired tobacco barns.

These are farm and pasture lands,
not entirely devoid of surprise but
largely unaccustomed to it.
Even the trill of a warbler, slightly

out of season, tips the delicate balance
of slow time, as if it were embarrassed
by the momentary silence that follows;
an inappropriate laugh during a

serious lecture, the awkward applause
in the pause before a concerto is complete,
so that we are made to be aware

for an instant
of our presence.

c. 2012, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, "Unlanguage."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The beasts within us are much worse than
those we invent.
Reason and even prayer fail us, results from either
            being imperceptible or absent.
In the face of the incomprehensible, we
crumble and rebuild;
Camus’s irreverent stone made real.

Results themselves are our
comfortable fiction.
We finally confront the bitter fruit of
our first and only selves.


Contrary to popular belief,
perceptions are not reality,
but are more often presumptions. In the
            Bay of Fundy streams reverse their
flows in the great tidal bores,
            not without some pain. Even
the slow breath of the earth must gasp.

The bartender in her tattoos
            wears her myths in ink,
a canvas I admit I sometimes long 
            to touch and to taste.


O, Jupiter and O, Chaos, how is it I find
            ephemeral redemption
in the stray glance of a woman’s eye,
            and certainly her smile.
Make me a fool, then, this is my shame;
            I wasted a lifetime and then some
failing beauty.

We may all die for lack of an
appropriate yardstick
to measure our better selves.
            I still persist in the attempt.


There are shadows and scars on our souls.
There is no compelling evidence that
we are born with them. Sin is merely
            the first excuse. We cultivate our
children only to discover we have
            little influence and less control
over the eventual outcomes.

Left to this fearful conclusion we
            can only rely on fragile love.
Things must be precisely as they are,
            a view profoundly imponderable.


Sound does not travel in a vacuum
            so the conundrum remains:
If the sun roars in its fire and there is
            no atmosphere to carry it,
no soul there to listen, no soul there to
            burn in its fires,
does it make a sound?

We can spin on such questions
then dinner must be prepared and the
            dogs let out to run.


Gravity requires a certain weight to be felt,
even more to master its substance.
The Greeks cast gods as fickle beings, then
            killed them in starlight.
The myths we persist in maintaining are
            no less surreal, but perhaps lack the poetry.
We all die in starlight.

Dreams contain the stray calculi
of our experience,
the sum of which add up to something:
            Our first and only selves.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, "Unlanguage"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grey Chambered Moon

I entered your dream as you clambered onto the dappled grey,
leapt out past the thicket of oaks arranged as a forest chamber,
bare shoulders brushed by light sprung from the full withering moon.
I may not have been welcome. My distraction nearly made you fall.
“I can’t… I can’t.” This is what you said in wisdom.
My needs would have driven you off course.

It is possible I should have known this, of course.
There are too many moments written in shades of grey
and in the heat of time we sometimes lack wisdom.
These are poor excuses drafted from an old man’s chamber,
not so old, maybe, but this summer is too quickly turning to fall.
You can tell by the waning slant of the yellowed moon.

I will remind you of the things I remember: The crescent moon
of your left breast loosely exposed by a blue V-neck. The course
of our random and unexpected language of attraction. My fall
from grace, wishing you would join me. The staggering grey
smoke of fireworks, us cast below as residents of a gas chamber.
“I love this moment,” we said, wondering at our mutual lack of wisdom.

One day, you told me, you will visit Argentina’s City of Wisdom,
the park full of gods where you will pull down your pants and moon
them. You mentioned then you weren’t wearing underwear, your chamber
of secrets momentarily exposed in my imagination, a crash course
in erotic resistance, your voice the brushstrokes of Payne’s grey
that captured and condemned Eve moments before the Fall.

There is no fall from grace or perhaps we always fall,
that terrifying dream in which we have no wings, no wisdom
to fly. We float anyway, and in this dream each of our hairs turn grey.
Before this I had never noticed the similarity between age and the moon.
The shades of the moon laugh at youth’s chambered
innocence, for all that, its light may still keep us on course.

In the end, I apologize. There is a peculiar chamber
of the heart reserved for remorse, the place from which blood falls
when pierced by love or lust, the place of abandon or recourse,
the place from which we choose to ignore wisdom
and rely instead upon hope—that impossible, scathing moon
that drenches us in a constant monochromatic palette of grey.

Love must be a chambered bullet, not silver but grey
and dark so that to fall in such is not like moonlight,
but an urgent trajectory whose course denies all wisdom.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, "Unlanguage."
Please see author's note under "comments."

Friday, June 29, 2012


It is late spring and too warm by far for the
season, so that blue vapors settle in the
mystic Northwoods pines, bring to mind  
ancient gods and those who invented them.

The waters of the timeless lake unfold
from your skin, so that the fracture of
sudden sunlight as you emerge
drapes you in furious diamonds.

Water sculpts us and absorbs us,
christens and absolves us, but that may
not be enough; it is only water after all.

Vast clouds approach and the thunder
rolls out in a way that I have never heard:
As the storm nears there is a constant
insistent rumble. It goes on so for 30 minutes

without pause. The worst of the rain skirts us,
we learn later, still soaked in the memory of a
drenching downpour, its sound the
enlightened ohm that empties all thoughts.

At night, the loons defy language in their
absurd haunting calls, intone wood-deep
chants from which certain spells might be
cast when mixed with native ingredients.

I am an old witch,
haggard in her tumbled ways,
soaking sumac and drying herbs
against the backdrop of barking wolves.

There are more elements than we can count.
Earth, air, fire, and water are all
one and the same. This is the only secret.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, "Unlanguage"

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Au Pairs

The three young women gathered
at the green park bench,
each lovely in her own way, in the
ways that women are beautiful.
Seated at the bench beside them I

couldn’t help but overhear their
European accents, that they’d never
met before. You are German, too?
the newcomer asked of one.
No, French, said the taller of the

three. From Montendre. And you?
—I am from Italy but I speak German, too.
And then the blonde, the German,
said something in her native tongue.
They all laughed at this delightful

little secret. I smiled in happy envy
at the fleeting instance of being a
foreigner in my own country.
Their charges, the children, I mean,
careened across the playground,

oblivious to this moment and its
import, if any might be ascribed.
As practiced as mothers, perhaps
more patiently, even, the au pairs
corralled the children with

gentle calls and admonitions.
In this small park that held the 
world, the women shared at least
two languages, their youth, the
responsibility of caring for

wealthy people’s children, and 
the mixed joy of a new country.
Maybe a certain worldliness, too,
that I—a well-traveled stranger—
can only resurrect from memory,

sitting instead now on a
park bench as my daughter
climbs the playground set,
imagining herself a great explorer
in distant, undiscovered lands.

c. 2012, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, “Unlanguage.”