The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Walter Bargen




The floor dusted with baby powder,

sand scattered and smoothed in front of the door,

rug vacuumed so the ply pours only one direction,

the abandoned soul leaves no tracks

and always enters from the West.



The regalia of crow and heron feathers,

fringed leather jacket beaded red and yellow,

scintillating scales of light, jagged lightning bolts

slashed white and black along each arm and leg, 

mummified hawk perched on a Sunday-bonnet,

ready to swoop down on the bodiless.

A thumb-sized crystal strapped to his forehead,

beacon burning for moccasin quiet souls.



In the kitchen, admiration for the kitchen witch.

They sit on the porch swing recalling

a day that was all promise before

the breaking began.  They float

below the ceiling ready to circle the light

or beat up and down the closed windows

following the tiny torments of wasps and moths,

making up their instincts or making up their souls,

brooms already in flight through the room.



To defend their souls, the others know

two fingers are enough to make the sign

of the cross over their flayed flesh.

A third hand fingerless, bleeds on the floor,

reaching out for the already lost.

Two alleluias a binary proposition,

the third an unrequited echo. Tongues sure

to tire and knot on anything more,

less a chance to lick a lie.



Only on Sundays─seven loaves barely enough.

A forest of crutches by the door,

sign of the liberated.

Who needs baptism when it rains each day.

Who needs prayer when the wind

never stops lipping the ravaged house.

Leaving, leaving endless rusting incantations,

until the mad soul comes running naked

out of the field convinced and dreams

collide with the ravaged earth.

Castration and lopping off breasts,

eunuchs and savaged maidens of the new

heaven on earth, villagers turn to bloody

underwriters insuring profit on the time left.



To save their souls, the Hindu faces one way,

the Muslim the other. The Hindu writes

from left to right and the Muslim from right

to left.  Hindus pray to the rising sun

and Muslims pray to the setting sun.

One eats with the right hand,

one eats with the left.

Who can remember

and can anyone be sure.

Hindus worship cows. Muslims

are in paradise eating beef.

A clash of the soul’s habits.



A busy day, the cat in for emergency surgery.

The morning cutting and nailing boards

between floor joists so it can’t happen again.

A busy week monitoring radiation levels,

civil wars, revolutions, while turning the beds

for early spring planting, the snap peas eager to wander

through worms and composted horse manure. 

A busy month, decade, eon, but how could I ever

catch up with King David conquering Jerusalem,

his son, King Solomon, building the First Temple;

the Babylonian, Nebuchadnezzar conquering Jerusalem

again and destroying the First Temple; then the Persian

take over when the Judeans return to build

the Second Temple; then King Herod reconstructs

and expands what has fallen down, and less than a century

later the Romans take Jerusalem and destroy

the Second Temple, leaving the Western Wall

covered with ancient dust fine as baby powder

for all souls that spill out again.



Walter Bargen

Expense Account


The old man upstairs, his feet creak.

His toes are nothing but splinters.

His worry is older than the pine

boards he paces.  Some day he will

walk right into the grain. 


For now he thinks no one can hear

the snap and pop of his ancient ankles.

The shadow of fire follows him

into every dusty corner.

That he goes unnoticed as a twig

of kindling burning quickly.


It’s time he thinks that we invent

new excuses for killing each other.

And it’s time for him to get back

to work on his standup comedy

routine. If no one’s going to believe

in him at least maybe there’s a laugh

he can share.


A minor celebrity. Maybe 

This flea-bag hotel

Will let him stay another night

with a promise of forever

as an I-owe-you.

With his wooden feet,

every step of the way

is a knock to open the door.



Walter Bargen

Invasion of the Giant Tomatoes


Elvira, named after the late night television host,

              whose face was buried in eyeliner,

bust always about to burst the levees of her bodice

             and flood the camera lens,  hosting B-rate horror movies

that are second only to her cave-kitsch cloudy with synthetic spider

              webs and talking heads stored in boxes that dispense bad puns

for the late-night lovelorn.


Elvira always stays up late, anxious for her boyfriend’s return

              from the liquor store with its barred windows and metal door

covered with booted impressions as if the clientele walk up walls,

              always unwelcomed by the unsmiling cashier

behind bullet-proof glass. He stops along the way to get

              a little extra before or after his purchase

of a twelve pack of Bud or Blue Ribbon, if the deal

              went down and he feels flush.


She waits behind the door or in the ragged shadows

              of the paint-thirsty porch, cursing herself

for letting this happen, this slide that never seems to end,

              but ends every day in something worse: utilities shut off,

kid rushed to the emergency room, hand-to-mouth

              a luxury.  How could she be so stupid,

so naive, so wanton and blind in her desires.

              Ready to swing whatever she can find, the broken-


handled  broom, victim of last  night’s jousting,

              broken toaster, but an empty beer bottle best.

The movie in the background always more

              laughs than the horror of another night

of seething jealousy.  He can leave most months blank,

              that would be the easiest  by most measures,

hardest by others when he hears Elvira say

              he never wants to talk before she swings.




WALTER BARGEN has published 19 books of poetry. Recent books include: Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (2009), Endearing Ruins/Liebenswerte Ruinen (2012), Trouble Behind Glass Doors (2013), Quixotic (2014), and Gone West/Ganz im Westen (2014). His latest book, scheduled for publication in November of 2017, is Too Quick for the Living. His awards include: the Chester H. Jones Foundation prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).



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