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Sample Poems by Stuart Bartow


Often they are described as twain, but who thinks
of them as a pair of sisters? Instead, their voices waft
from a crag, a rocky coast, and I imagine a flock,
a rookery, feathers scattered among the skulls
and empty rib cages of bewitched sailors. Perhaps

only two sing at any given time, or maybe all
their voices fuse to two. Then there is the matter of size.
Are their bodies big as humans, their talons large
as garden rakes? Or are they like sea eagles, ospreys,
or with heads no larger than Barbies,

their movie star faces those of human dolls?
How is it they enchant so? Twin sopranos,
their avian shapes must mingle their voices
with sea and wind, casting over the breakers,
swiping the minds of simple mariners

who haven't heard a woman sing in what feels like
never. The first woman we hear singing is ever
the first woman singing. Did I almost drown to find
the source of that voice, the bringer of that spell?
And what of you? Hearing the greatest girl group ever,

wouldn't you course toward the mist-shrouded coast?
Merely their voices would be enough for me
to cast away. But you, what lyrics would coax
you to madness, risk death to hear? No mirror green,
I watch through a clouded glass. Tell me, but no
one else your secret. I will stow it safely
in a place that is sister to the sea.

Ars Poetica

One night you're out walking
in the village where you have lived for years
and stray down a street
you never noticed before.
You pass several houses,
force yourself to ignore the one
whose tenants are under the spell
of a television's blue haze,
pass the one where a naked body
drifts behind a curtain's veil,
and step briskly through the strains
of Hank Williams, another
with Mozart's violins.
In one house there are birds,

Finches perhaps, chaotic and lovely,
in a clandestine aviary.
A voice seems ready to break through a window,
to fly from the house
crying something shrill, insistent,
human enough to make you realize
there is a language all beings speak,
but in unfamiliar words.

Back home you attempt to translate
the dialect you heard
but lose it just like any other memory
you told yourself you would keep forever.
You vow to return to the street,
the house, the living book
that each bird makes.

Things get in the way, so weeks,
or years pass before you're back,
only to find the house abandoned,
windows broken.
So you go home with nothing
and write a poem about an empty house
where the silence inside is massive
as a forest at midnight.

Gustav Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx

A living enigma machine, this sphinx
is miniaturized, no giant afloat in the desert,
but a creature lurking in the mountains, larger
than a house cat, wings upraised
to reveal a young woman's head,
a princess in a tiara. She has pounced
on Oedipus, cloying, almost disrobing
him as he stands his ground,
his Corinthian face frozen into hers,
eyeball to eyeball, spear in hand.

He has solved her riddle
but we cannot know
whether he has answered. The sphinx's gaze
suggests she desires to do more
with Oedipus than eat him.

Now it's time for Oedipus to ask
some questions: Who braids your blonde hair
so delicately, why is the red chain
around your waist the same color
as my spear? What are your meals
when no humans risk
your lair? Still, the pair
looks ready to kiss,
the human part of the chimera
so lovely, panic just beginning
to possess her stare. Nameless,
doom-fated as the man
about to banish her

with one word, has terror already
loosened her grip, her claws
still hooked into his thighs?