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.”