Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am the Old Man on the Porch, Watching the Quiet World

I am the old man on the porch, watching the quiet world,
Content to be as some imagine me--those who look as they pass
And wonder how I came to be here. They never ask. 

Suburban Buddha, sipping sweet tea, the cat curled
Beside me, the paper beside her, headlines hurled
By the newsboy on the bicycle this morning, as fast

As I am still. Ignore that jealous tick behind my mask. 
I once rode quickly, too; a stitch of memory, now purled. 

Her minivan arrives, parks parallel,
She alights with the smile of 45 years;
It may be she really is happy.

She approaches, asks if I'm well. 
She won't understand simply sitting here,
Busy at nothing, sometimes exhausts me.

—Martin A. Bartels

Monday, March 28, 2011


This sentence was diagrammed 35 years ago,
the verbs and adjectives sequestered,
the pronouns identified; the subject, you.
This was the first sentence of the novel that
had yet to be written. Really, many stories
followed, some worth reading more than others.

Yours earned the coffee stains, the
dog-eared pages, the notes scrawled
in the margins. Yours was the one
donated to the used bookstore
for someone else to read lovingly.

—Martin A. Bartels

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Index of First Lines

Please read this poem and other fantastic found poems in the Fall 2011 issue of The Found Poetry Review. And thanks to Jenni Baker and everyone else at TFPR for selecting my poem!

—Martin A. Bartels

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Packing for New York

It is possible to see things in New York
that existed before the world was created. 
There is compelling evidence that God
was manufactured in New York, strung together
of bridge struts, exhaust, furious sounds, dim sum,
and concrete (for endurance). Thus created,

he walked through these streets both born and reborn,
resisted the temptations of whores, bankers
and artists, passed churches and synagogues,
mosques and temples, tilted his head questioning
and opted for a bottle of wine in Central Park. 
Several children, recognizing him,

ran up to coax the more profound answers
from his lips: What is blood? Do you pray at night?
Can you make it snow? They laughed at his clothing
and tugged on his robes made of light. New York
is not a city you can know from the outside.
To pack for this place is to presume one can

bring anything to it. The contents of my
luggage are strangely anonymous; upon
close inspection one would miss the stray hair
of a lovely woman, the memories, the
quantum particles that hitched rides from
prior destinations and dreams. I am

notorious for over-packing and so
reduce the collection to the barest 
essentials: A book, these sentences, the razor
that daily reshapes my image, the shirt that
clings to my skin, the buttons and the fingers
upon them. Each thing I pack is a part of you.

—Martin A. Bartels

Friday, March 25, 2011

Small Things

Neither of us good
at small talk, we drove through the
desperate silence

settling on the
meaningful soap opera
of politics as

distraction. The night
before, I woke to your tears
at 2, both of us

dislocated from
dreams of a future that had
been rewritten in

the illegible
scrawl of a doctor's pen. They
measure tumors in

millimeters and
leave us to measure the
consequences in faith.

—Martin A. Bartels


Please read this poem and fanstastic works by other writers in 'Verse Wisconsin | Issue 107: Earthworks.' And thanks to the folks at Verse Wisconsin for including my poem!

—Martin A. Bartels

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Granny's Lament

Any more I think I'm better off
not taking any medicine.

I got so many aches and pains,
I'm tired. I'm so tired. I'm tired of life.

I was on this medicine that cost
seven dollars a pill and I'd gone through

the whole bottle before I realized
it was making me sicker.

Any more I can't even play cards
because all of my friends are dead. 

There's no one left at the table to deal.

—Martin A. Bartels

Junk Drawer

The skeleton key reaches back
deeper than childhood. it once unlocked
memories to come: the grist and

rhyme of sacred words recited 
largely by rote on grandmother's 
ample lap, the vast yard where

cousins played then dutifully
heeded the dinner bell, the drawer
of old keys, rubber bands, talcum,

the rosary from Rome wearied
by Hail Mary's through the war and
then the years of change. A vial of

holy water dabbed as perfume
when making the sign of the cross.
A deck of cards and the leather

dice cup. The dice themselves are cast
in perfect calculus. There are
pieces of life that fit nowhere else.

—Martin A. Bartels


We are stilled by such tragedies
as we cannot comprehend. Those 
children in Russia, Virginia,
in Colorado. So many.
Nature, too, inflicts inertia.
Tsunamis, hurricanes and fires
deconstruct the careful longing,
our sure pretense of relevance,
leaving inadequate options:
to take comfort in words in which
there can be no comfort, to paint
our religions, coax them to life.
Mapmakers today understand
the world is made entirely 
of layers: air patterns, land and
watersheds, forest and roadways,
urban densities, also known
as towns and the people within.
Remove these layers and the earth
becomes almost invisible,
surely as it must have been when 
God laid the framework for first sin.
Are we to take heart knowing that
even He started over once?
It is easy to view the stars 
as souls, and if the stars then birds, 
some rivers. And if rivers we 
might be baptized in each other.
      The coffee mugs are always clean.
      The muddled bedroom is empty.
      God, after this grief, every 
      I love you feels like goodbye.

(c. 2009, Martin A. Bartels)