Part 4 Contributors


Tony Barnstone
Willis Barnstone
Ellen Bass
Christopher Buckley
Neeli Cherkovski
Boris Dralyuk
Alicia Elkort
Mary Fitzpatrick
Michael C. Ford
Kate Gale
Frank X. Gaspar
Dana Gioia
Shotsie Gorman
S.A. Griffin
Donna Hilbert
Brenda Hillman
Glenna Luschei
Phoebe MacAdams
devorah major
Clive Matson
K. Silem Mohammad
Rusty Morrison
Harry Northup
Holly Prado Northup - In Memoriam
Cathie Sandstrom
Shelley Scott - In Memoriam
Daniel Shapiro
Mike Sonksen
Pam Ward
Sholeh Wolpe
Gary Young
Mariano Zaro

Part 1 Contributors

Rae Armantrout
Bart Edelman
David Garyan
Suzanne Lummis
Glenna Luschei
Bill Mohr
D. A. Powell
Amy Uyematsu
Paul Vangelisti
Charles Harper Webb
Bruce Willard
Gail Wronsky

Part 2 Contributors

Elena Karina Byrne
liz gonzález
Grant Hier
Lois P. Jones
Ron Koertge
Glenna Luschei
Rooja Mohassessy
Susan Rogers
Patty Seyburn
Maw Shein Win
Kim Shuck
Lynne Thompson
Carine Topal
Cecilia Woloch

Part 3 Contributors

Michelle Bitting
Laurel Ann Bogen
Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Lucille Lang Day
Corrinne Clegg Hales
Marsha De La O
Charles Jensen
Eloise Klein Healy
Glenna Luschei
Clint Margrave
Henry Morro
Alexis Rhone Fancher
Phil Taggart
David L. Ulin
Jonathan Yungkans
Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis

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Click to enlarge picture Tony Barnstone
Tony Barnstone
Californian Poets Part 4: Four Poems
Tony Barnstone



Plague Haikus

In college we tried––in a stoned game, hypnosis––but just my girlfriend––
went under, her dark––still face Madonna serene––lost inside herself––
large luminous eyes––lightly closed against the light––When a mocking boy––
in a Dodgers cap––asked What do you want to be––when you grow up she––
whispered A cabbage––We laughed but she got her wish––We nest¬¬ in houses––
hunkering down in––vegetable rows, folded in––on ourselves, fallow––

Strange liberation––Right down the yellow center––I walk the plague streets––
odd joggers giving––eight feet of berth not to share––the same dreadful air––
We are the last ones––on the earth, keeping distance––so scared and wary––
Press the cold button––with one knuckle, hold my breath––A steel voice says Walk––

Cannibalistic––nightmares crawl out of the mind––with gray sick faces––
Ah, humanity––Dramatic stance hand on heart––Can’t laugh at that joke––
Coyote nosing––a plastic-wrapped trash-bag pile––in San Francisco––
swarming pathogens––in crosswalks of New Orleans––the rats are teeming––
and disappearing––desiccated ghosts, we flap––like hospital sheets––

We have gone to ground––animals with wounded paws––We chew at the pain––
We hope the angel––of death cruising through the sky––doesn’t make a stop––
Crow on metal post––black knife wing-tips, button eyes––hungry, watching me––

Like a newspaper––with a broken back swirled up––then crushed down—
our lives, and we wake to dreams––of walls infinite maze––No one finds the door––
Closed doors, wooden teeth––Ghost-drawn shades, no one watching––blank-eyed
           houses, yet––
see that TV flash––curtains lit up like stained glass––music through the walls

The stagnant water––stanks up the air with specters––disembodied grief––
These days we are all––like that famous blue raincoat––torn at the shoulder––
Outside the strange air––will stab your lungs and brighten––the skin with fever––

Whiff of someone’s smoke––Choke it out frantic, Murder––We breathe borrowed
Yet, newspaper crushed––to earth learns to fly again––spreading paper wings––
Disinfecting sun––on my shoulders, I will greet––my neighbors again––
out of a dank cave––we’ll climb and fearlessly breathe––uninfected air––
the dark fatal bird––perched on the shoulder pecking––the neck will have flown––
and we might almost––hope that we won’t resume our––routine violence––
cursing everything––simply by living how we––live, being the plague––

Last Day of the Planet

The man she made love to at 18 has been slowly fading––first the words
evaporating like milk into a white crust, then touch-on-hip
and mouth-to-nipple crossing over into the file for swaddled-rocking-to-sleep
and good-suction-for-breast-feeding, until all that remains
is that ridiculous handlebar moustache floating in air, it being 1978,
when moustaches and saxophone solos still existed on the planet.

It’s gotten worse with the plague she can’t spit out, the dawns of bloody
sheets, red mess wind-blown into tissue and whirlpooled down-sewer,
everything escaping her brain stunned by morning sun,
worse with the flaming archangel guarding the door, worse with
the ghosts of grown and flown kids and rumors from the attic
where the old toys lost in boxes murmur with terra-cotta voices,
“I’m waiting, waiting” and “I never, never, never want to sleep.”

She’s alone like the post that gets no likes, no glowing hearts or glad emojis,
but sits there empty in a corner of the Internet, just a blown-fuse loose-tooth
dangling modifier, wearing a grey raincoat on a sunny day.
At least she’s begun to give up on the shame the sneak the alibi you give
when masturbating, even when you’re old enough to know it’s merely
human to be itchy horny antsy as a coiling nest of dreams.

But masturbation only goes so far, when what she really needs is
hand sanitizer, rarer than white rhinos, and market shelves are wooden mouths
without teeth, and fever singing in her ears is tiny tin pan ringing of distant devils,
kettledrum tinnitus of the spirit, hi-hat cymbal smash before the market crash.

Outside her window, the odd dismal tree is dark green of roasted broccoli,
hanging dangling dongles, fronds I suppose you could call them, fondling wind,
and sun nests in clouded egg-white sky, soft-boiled and yolkless.
On the hill the crematorium is chugging bodies into sky.
She doesn’t want to die, but really doesn’t want to be shoved into fire––
Puritan sinner screaming forever, wearing a garish turtleneck of flame.
She doesn’t believe in metaphor, but that’s the kind of year it’s been.

She’s trying to speak around this phlegm, wishing there was Drano
for the throat. She’s sick and diabetic and wearing her Zorro mask as she drives––
look at her crossing the double yellow line! Look at her singing in Spanish,
then hunching around a cough. Look at her counting the miles before she gets to
a bathroom. Look at the dog-walkers 8 feet apart on the street and never breathing
each other’s air. Have you seen them shuffling through the sad aisles––
people wearing blue masks, glancing at each other askew?
This is the last day of the planet before we all go back home and lock the doors.

A crow cawing somewhere back to the left of her head confuses
so many crumpled leaves, those green spikes striving up from earth,
drag queen flowers in the trees purpling up the air. Meanwhile,
one raindrop on her forehead. Palms trees like dirty toilet brushes try
and fail to scrub the sky clean. Oh, goodbye world! I loved you, too.

Fear or Symmetry

What if nine strokes followed by a massive hemorrhage?

What if tilted house on the corner lot with yarn on the porch
tangled in with leaves and a wind sifting through the hollow oak
like a why?

What if sailing marvelous clouds were not a veil but clarity?

What if invisible worm eating through the dirt in the glad morning
below the tiny barefoot dance?

What if angel shark burrowed into sand and waiting, waiting
to lunge, snap, shake, swallow.

What if those fuckers actually opt for the nuclear option?

What if a flask of tea on a cold day and clasping hands warmed
and head bowed into the steam?

What if the angel forged in the black hole passes overhead
on black crape wings, covered in chimney soot, saltpeter
and radioactive dust?

What if all these simmering meanings cook together
into comfort of fish soup at seaside while (see above)
the clouds above are not a veil but a clarity?

What if a sail triangulates the waves against the sun's
multifoliate blossoming into the unexpected sky?

What if the child asks, "Daddy, what is a dirt nap?"
and "Does the baby come out of mommy's skin?"

What if iPhone in the hip pocket tumbling through the lethal wash,
dropped in the laughing pool, caroming off the concrete?

What if the electric avatar directs the storm toward the levees
and then watches from above like a boy crushing ants with a stick?

What if we could manage all that, needles in the knees, inflating
balloons of fat, fear of white hair and putrefaction, embrace it all,
because even the ending is lucky by the time you get there?

A Line or a Spiral or a Circle

Memories degrade, purloined and misfiled, my brother at an outdoor café
drinking with a group of strangers at the edge of the black water
with lights inside its body, stars and shiplights and phosphorescent fish.

What would it be like to pierce this cirrus cloud of thought? Not the flashback
but a child’s flashlight under the covers in the dark, glitter stars on the ceiling,
and the mind corkscrewing out and up in greater and greater spirals.

Every cell in the body replaced. The young man who woke up that morning
is not the one sitting on the wicker seat and drinking ouzo as the Mediterranean
breeze fingers his shirt and the galaxies above uncoil, inventing time.

There was a boy who tobogganed down the glacier on his blue parka.
It makes a story, the dip in the ice that hid the sudden crevasse, how he leapt and
didn’t die, how every moment since washed the canyon deeper, the memory shining

at the bottom like a tiny bright river, until even he began to doubt the story.
After introductions, the man he’s been speaking with sits up straighter
and says intensely, “Robert B¬¬––. You’re tell me that you’re Robert B––?”

Olive tree leaves turn over and reveal their secret silver-dusted selves.
“Ye-es,” my brother replies, shifting in his seat. And the man leaps
to his feet and cries, “You son of a bitch, you peed on me!”

The mountain was in Africa, Ptolemy called it one of the Mountains
of the Moon for its whitecapped head. Now the glacier has largely rotted away.
Presently, all things stop being present. That’s why the present is forlorn,

that archaic word, the ripple with no stone, butterfly effect without the butterfly.
The well-water level sank and sank until the boy peering over the wall
saw only a deep tunnel and at the bottom looking up at him his own,

floating ghostly face. I don’t know the order in which things go.
Touch the butterfly’s wing and you will crush it. In time, we will be out
of space. Out of time, we'll be before space. No, I don’t know anything.

Was there a man who rolled on the carpet like an insect on its back?
Was there a woman who punched him in the spine, angry she was caught cheating?
No. There is only the fist and then the open hand.

The thing softening into idea. Harder and harder to draw
water from that dark well, pulling the bucket up hand over
hand as if braiding hair, as if climbing a rope up into the sky.

The man at the café was a friend of my father’s. He had come to dinner
at our house in Indiana, my mother tinkling laughter like a champagne toast,
my father holding court with stories within stories within stories.

And my brother, five years old, leapt to the center of the table,
dropped his trousers, grabbed his penis and sprayed the guests.
Go climb the mountain, leaping from tussock to outcrop or you’ll sink

to your knees in the vertical bog, wait out the fog and altitude sickness
in the base camp then climb above the treeline and the snowline to where
there are no lines, only white, where the clouds form and unform.

No, all gone now, or receding, a dream of a photo of a memory.
So, punish the body at the gym, spilling sweat and breath
and frantically shedding cells. So, behave like an adult, or like a child.

Remember to kiss your son on the top of his head. Behave then misbehave.
Laughter at the café. I make a list but can’t organize my thoughts.
Are they a circle or a spiral or a line? Am I writing or erasing myself away?