Friday, September 30, 2011


Given the
long history
of life on earth
one must finally
conclude that
everything we
walk upon is, in
some way, death.
The ash and detritus
of a trillion bones and
skin, marrow and
blood all ground to
dust. In time we all
master the art of
some more gracefully
than others. The
dinosaurs left bones
but nothing in the
way of useful
The cavemen left
some lovely
paintings, proving
that art must be
our second language.
Pots and pans of
lost civilizations
fill museums, the
digs themselves
strange mazes
of all that is forgotten.
The architecture of
our love is more fragile
than those walls.

--Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Five Three-Sentence 'I Love You's'

At ten thousand feet above sea level, the night sky is 
palpable with starlight. If you stare long enough you 
begin to fall upward, levitating toward infinity.
I was lost for a moment in you being lost.

At last count there were more than twenty-nine thousand
things that might cripple our hope. Stalled economies
rarely take into account the desperate needs of lovers in
turmoil, politicians singularly unpoetic
Love is an unpredictable buffer against such angst.

I still seek symbols and omens in common experience. 
They are most often lacking and I wonder at my 
insistence on meaning. It could be that everywhere I 
looked, the only answer was you and I wasn’t listening.

The closing door is a distinct goodbye, effective as a 
period and not quite an exclamation point. You wouldn’t have 
heard because I whispered them—the words, I mean.
The ones you wanted to hear when you first opened the door. 

After all this time we still struggle with what it means to love.
It is difficult to accept that, at times, it may be only to endure.
This might then be the final measure of true love: The 
elderly lovers--hands grasped mutually, frail bodies 
bent at angles designed to keep one another upright.

--Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tori Amos

(poem II of Star Cycle)

The setting: a university musicians' workshop, 
Northwestern, students gather in nervous clusters, 

fireflies circling. Whip-frayed and glowing, your
dangerous locks stray loosely around the room, weave us

into a diaphanous quilt. The questions: Where do your 
songs come from? Do you write music or words first? 

And for sheer genius how could any of us match “...little 
Fascist panties tucked inside the heart of every nice girl”? 

This is simply unfair. Siren and muse, elemental candy, 
you sit at the piano—the black & white behemoth that 

swallows you, your fingers tease it at first, coax the artist's
something-that-never-before-existed, the dissonant 

sound palette. You are a force possessing. It is possible 
in this auditorium filled with people to close my eyes and 

believe we are alone, to pray that I become the piano, 
though I must acknowledge the sobering realization that 

everyone here has just done the same. we are powerless 
in your aftermath. we are drenched in your sweat.

I do not remember the hello or goodbye, but am of a
memory of a glancing hug, a Euro kiss, a freckled cheek

lacking makeup, framed by fragrant hair, the scents of 
rose, patchouli, earth, and damp forest, the Tori-speak 

of irises and unicorns, mythos and mysticism, of your  
world into which we can only yearn to have been born.

--Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Plural of Grief

Driving after an overnight ice storm the morning sun
crested hills, glancing trees just so: There illumined, a
staggering array of diamonds or earth-bound starlight,
an ice-glazed land without explanation or want of one.

I would have painted or photographed that scene, and
believe still that the light itself would have defied such
capture. I am left to mere words. They are inadequate
but all we have, discomfited as we are by silence.

I look to words to describe that November’s sainted frost,
the drenching humidity of a mid-Atlantic August,
how what seems so simple to others befuddles me,
how I excel at what seems impossible to others,

and why at the age of three my youngest daughter,
Emma, painted her October pumpkins pink and placed
one in her bedroom window, one in her closet,
and closed the door. “It’s my guardian pumpkin,” she said.

One must look to words to describe the fundamental
incompatibility of hope and life, the substance and
calculus that conspire to strip away our defense,
compel us to scream “why” at a God that suggests,

in return, it is not our question to ask. (Admit, finally,
that the word “because” does not answer anything.)
You must tap your deepest self time and time again to
overcome the raging arc of life, the aches and yearnings, the

fallibilities and the grief, the anguish of a loved one borne
away by cancers, lost minds, lost hearts, lost loves, loss.
It takes courage and more to survive these things,
and I have, but I am singularly uncourageous and lack the

simplest of skills to accomplish anything but to endure.
I am a conscript of the peculiar faith that suggests God
will impose nothing that we cannot survive. But he will
do his damndest to find our particular tolerances. 

-Martin A. Bartels (draft version)