Friday, December 16, 2011


At night I sit by the holiday tree with a warm cup,
remove my glasses for the effect. Nearsighted,
each light simmers, distorted as if through tears.

From this vantage the packages below are simply
colors, the tinsel glass, candy canes and ornaments
merely shapes with the secret desire to become.

Begin at the sturdiest of branches: Grandmother
(long since passed) crafted the large Styrofoam balls
wrapped in golden ribbon, studded through with

green and silver foil sequins. Just above, the wooden
cutouts of sleighs, rocking horses, and stockings,
tenderly painted with my sister (now gone, too).

Higher now, the pendants of our journey, the
absurd tin boat from Nags Head, the horses from
Kentucky, our weekends in Door County, your

childhood treasures and the porcelain frames of
our girls as infants; each branch an ascendant
stanza of our lives. A map begins to form of our

travels and our histories, all fashioned by tight
twine. These rough threads braid us in this frail
journey. Around it all the parochial rosary of a

cranberry garland strung through by silver thread,
all this life bound sacred then, true. This tree of love
and dreams and memories that guide us, green as

the breath of spring, each blossom held in place
by a simple white angel perched atop, her grace the
quiet gravity that holds everything named Peace.

--c. 2011, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Difficult River

Driving south, seams in the road bump out an arrhythmic heartbeat.
Signs punctuate the journey: Lexington 140 miles, Straw for Sale,
Jesus is Coming, Jesus is Here, Psychic Readings $20, Make an Offer—

Cars for Sale, the last being timely because at some point between
origin and destination we will surely break down. We believe we can
travel in straight lines knowing that nature won’t tolerate it.

Overheard (buyer to salesman):
I’d like to believe that you believe everything you’re saying.
I’m fallible that way (not to be confused with gullible), but this
verse that is life demands a certain poetic restraint.

More signs: Towns named Challenge, Minuet, and Strawberry,
they all meld together, each green sign might be the name of
someone you’ve met and moved beyond. And then the bridge over

Difficult River. I cross it in a moment of distraction, until the name
catches up with me and I’m forced to pull over, stunned. We brand
our places with hopeful or borrowed names but rarely with the

candor our lives demand. Difficult River, one needs no map to
know its path and history and every resident on its shores.
The tentative sunrises and the ways both light and darkness reflect.

Driving to Omaha during the floods, I stopped at the peak of
verdant bluffs and couldn’t help but stagger before the enormous
Midwest ocean that had once been farmland. Convincing evidence

that rivers must be the first gods. I walk to the edge of Difficult River 
considering prayer but opt for an impromptu picnic. We have rare 
moments of so-called clarity but then I’m not certain what all the 

other moments are. It’s easy enough to convince myself that I am the 
only person who has sat upon this rock and so some acknowledgment 
must be in order. I toss a coin into the water and ask that this river 

carry me past all the unrelenting dramas. That we might portage 
through this boundary water known as life, complaining of all we 
might have left behind for its extraneous weight, but in the end

let grace wash over us, that we were both here to carry it.
This is the one thing I don’t get about angels: their capacity to
forgive forever exceeds the baggage of our souls.

--c. 2011, Martin A. Bartels (working draft)