Willis Barnstone – Born in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin, the Sorbonne, SOAS, Columbia and Yale, taught in Greece at the end of the civil war (1949-51) and in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War. Former O'Connor Professor of Greek at Colgate University, he is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University. A Guggenheim fellow, he has been the recipient of many awards over the years, including NEA, NEH, Emily Dickinson Award of the Poetry Society of America, W. H. Auden Award of the New York State Council on the Arts, the Midland Authors Award, four Book of the Month selections, and four Pulitzer nominations. His work has appeared in magazines including APR, Doubletake, Harper's, New York Review of Books, Paris Review, Poetry, New Yorker and TLS.


Light is my end. Born when a few cells fuse
in a big bang of love, from nothing I
become a mass living in time, and lose
my black aloneness for the unseen eye
of mind catching you. We two think and burn.
Back in 1905 Albert Einstein,
a clerk in the Patent Office in Bern,
found we electromagnetically shine,
which means that I am charged with being me,
discharging like the sun. And when my mass
and time slow down to zero gravity,
dismembering me to be infinite night,
Albert's mc2 tells me though my ass
will disappear, I shall turn into light.



The poet Amichai celebrated the tattoos
on Auschwitz prisoners as telephone numbers
of God who didn't pick up, a disconnect,
because their lives were, even with arm stains
by animal ink, a breath and each breath good.
His humor was sorrow. But he celebrated them
alive. There were no funerals. In peace days
we celebrate the dead at funerals. It's not fair.
Twain and Hemingway got to read their praise
(they weren't yet gone), which is my fantasy.
Why not tell tales and anecdotes, laugh now
about who we've been. Yes, we keep lighting
matches till the last drop of sky enters us,
but what a waste not to enjoy the group, the talk,
and feast after the ceremony till we bloat
with happiness. Then when that medical
miscarriage of the body occurs (I hope I can
leap out of bed, do my 10 pushups and drop out
in shape), let no cleric, kin or friend go near
and sprinkle us with tears. Hire a few diggers,
pay them union wage, and they will take care
of the spade work all alone. Be good to life.
Before we go to dark let us know celebration.


The Dark Night

The dark night has a way of holding pain
indefatigable. The bed's a hope-
less rocking beast. Cain has come again
over the planet with a knife and rope
of anger. He will fail but I'll get up
and flee. Nothing is soft, yet the dark night
is cover. Darkness has its ways like the cup
of the green moon unseen when on this light-
less evening I ask couples how to find
my way back to my Spanish hotel cot.
I'm suddenly nineteen. It's night. I've lost
my father. Dark and loss begin to port
me on their ferry. Jaime says in my case
it's okay since I'm a poet. I'm not,
but he seeds me. My daughter almost gone
into the dark. She's back. Night had a way
for el Doctor de la Nada in flight
where nothing was. After oblivion,
in his dark night he slept with wind and love.
The fist of pain allows no fingers one
can break. I bump out. Till I'm underground
darkness will do. The green moon winks above
and back on my cold hotel chair I scrawl
these lines. Pain has a way of birthing light.


Willis Barnstone Moonday poetry reading

© 2006 Willis Barnstone

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