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Barry Wallenstein

Five poems

Shades of Keats
The Fabulous Backdrop
Euphoria Ripens
The Mite and the Peacock
Gazing at Raindrops

Shades of Keats

The cicadas are amorous tonight
in the realm of our listening.
How should we behave under such sound,
the waves of it teasing our minds
out of thought? Keatsian trills thrill down
to the exposed nerve beneath a broken tooth.
Is that anger I now hear
within the singing insects’ song,
or is some creature resisting penetration?
Are we truly one or are we two?
This is the rasp I hear
against a fallen heaven.
So clear are the facts of waters rising in a flood
only to recede while others soon rise elsewhere.
The facts are registered in the music made
on the creature’s tymbal organ.
Why so sexy, the lovers wonder,
leaning close, trying to understand, listening.

The Fabulous Backdrop

On this night, one storm having passed
and the night sky cool with starlight,
and moonlight planting shadows
against the giant hills, the birds are all but still;
and the rustlings in the leaves
are becoming whispers,
while a breeze kissed by honeysuckle
carries off the daytime armor.
The nuzzlings going on in caves and warrens
are innocent – but before this night is over,
a creature will call out in heaven-piercing pain
waking up to the present moment.
Lambs hurry, all woolly and yielding,
to lie down with wolf cubs restless and teething.

Euphoria Ripens

For all who luxuriate in
time’s slow drag,
there are others speedily watching
the joys and sorrows
of one man passing into another man’s jaw.
Here in counting country,
those who line up with the half time,
slow time tickers
are lollygagging yet proud,
while the rest of us go click click click
our bodies hurling forward
toward the wheel.
Every morning on every leaf
the dews gather;
they bubble and shine in the rising sun;
slowly, then quickly, they dry.

The Mite and the Peacock

Not thinking about his own blood
he tries to astound the mite
before he names it,
before he imagines its sex,
before it disappears
within the folds of his neck
or into the soft thin back of his thigh.
He knows it’s there sucking,
so he fluffs his fanning wings
and speaks passages out of Shakespeare,
to hold the attention, (he’ll never get it)
slow the progress (he couldn’t anyway)
of the mite – towards its heaven.
He thinks almost aloud:
I’m about as good a home
for this little bugger
as anywhere else – the bottom of a king,
the winner of the derby,
the pulp beneath the General’s hair.
There are many hosts—fine places
out there for the suckers to nest in
but I’m here and magnificent
and beneath the bright feathers
there’s flesh on my bones.
Suck away my darling – it’s but a short stay.

Gazing at Raindrops

Here’s a raindrop large as a globe;
inside are three giant glaciers floating south—
cities being rubbed and jostled by the flow,
and the smaller islands have gone under
to sand bars. Only the old maps
show the earlier story: picturesque.
The raindrop on its right reveals the mountains;
Tarzan is seen smiling—
swinging from a tree.
The others have stripped to their shorts and
are waving their fisted hands heavenward
as the waters rise relentlessly.
The raindrop to the left is even larger
and the performances within are wild:
a fevered auto race with Silver Streak in the lead,
and above that, as the hill rises and crests,
a fair with a Ferris Wheel is in progress
and the children shrieking high above everything.
They are dry. The hero in the tree is dry.
Only those in cities – always built on waterways,
always in need of channels –
are scurrying about.
The automobiles and trains are under water,
and the boat builders rushing to their craft.
When the raindrops pop and dry,
as they will in the returning sunlight,
all that was seen inside them
will be gone with the drops.

Barry Wallenstein

Barry Wallenstein

Barry Wallenstein is the author of five collections of poetry, Beast Is a Wolf With Brown Fire, (BOA Editions, 1977), Roller Coaster Kid (T.Y. Crowell, 1982), Love and Crush (Persea Books, 1991), The Short Life of the Five Minute Dancer (Ridgeway Press,1993), A Measure of Conduct (Ridgeway Press, 1999). A new book, Tony’s World, is due out in early 2010. His poetry has appeared in over 100 journals, including Ploughshares, The Nation, Centennial Review, and American Poetry Review. Since June 2002 he has given readings in London, Dublin, Cape Town, Prague, Paris and Nice. A special interest of his is presenting poetry readings in collaboration with jazz. He has made six recordings of his poetry with jazz, the most recent being Euphoria Ripens [Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1210, May 2008], which was listed one of the Best New Releases in the journal All About Jazz (December 2008). He is an Emeritus Professor of literature and creative writing at the City University of New York and an editor of the journal American Book Review.

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