the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




11 WORKS
BY BARRY WALLENSTEIN

TONY THE POTHEAD

Tony reads the news
smokes a joint
bites his lip hard, spins
and goes out to see the stylist;
have his hair turned red.

--It's about time
his inner voice sings.
--Why so dull for so long?
He doesn't hear a thing.

Walking with a new head
within the city's tendrils,
he's a bobbing red flame,
an aspect; electric boots and
a belt that shines have him flying.

In all this
Tony forgets what he's read:
the left hand column of print
fades to blue;
the right hand column
too fades to blue.

But a memory on page 7
holds him like a damp finger
on fresh ice.
Images of waste unconfuse--briefly:
nuclear mountains in the suburbs
waves of poison overflowing
his stash obscured, even his charm
by the images, cold and funny
as in Death.

Smoke drifts by from around the corner
lifting Tony, slightly, wafting him home.

================

FUNDAMENTAL

A man's spine is his best friend.
The heart too cares a lot
and shouldn't collapse when bending,
spoiling the friendship.

The toes, the feet, even the hands,
lost, let's say in a flood of nature,
are but distant cousins-played with,
sucked on, scratched-
hardly as fundamental as spine
and heart and (I almost forgot) brains

and lungs:
suck it up and
pass the brandy & Benzedrine.

================

THE DRAIN AND THE CHERRY TREE

1.

You empty your bladder
& you purge your bowels,
you empty you purge,
empty, purge.
You do it.
Then one dark night
bright near its height
you stop-
the years let go of you
down the drain.

2.

But there's love:
the boy by the cherry tree
picking lightly the reddish bark
imagining carving a heart
with an arrow in it
and a name his love could spell,
but some qualm about
caging her name in wood
drops his knife.
He shouts her name to the air
and wipes his blade on the grass.

================

THE BUTCHER

The butcher moves closer to the hog;
so mild and certain is he--the butcher,
that the hog knows nothing about music,
candlelight, or cutlery--
but rather leans towards ritual,
the excitement of a church fair
with the grill getting ready,
after someone has cleaned the spit.

It's a bright summer's day
and the butcher's blade, unsheathed,
proves its practice.
The pig squeals briefly
and then it's a snake line of people
at the outdoor buffet,
a heaven of smells
and chatter and smiles
from greasy mouths.

As for the butcher,
he does have a home life:
his daughter is a Vegan,
his son has no interest in butchery
and his wife collects stuffed animals,
small bears, rabbits and a little pig.

================

MY UNDERSTUDY

The young man, shot twice
and painfully,
had been on earth long enough
(not too long sway the flowers)
to know the difference
between lambswool and polyester,
pain and an upward stare into nowhere.

He'd choose the former
in both cases ordinarily,
but on this day,
out of a wilding world,
there came two missiles, errant
hot strangers to his shape,
tearing into his back and side.

Bleeding in public
and fighting sleep, he fell awake
as into a state of babyhood,
where each moment swells
to yards of cushioned time and desired speech;
but the sharp burning holes
kept him croaking in his speech.

Besides, from where I stood
I could hardly hear
above the shrill mill of gawkers.
Did he say "no, wait" or "it's late"?
He seemed embarrassed
as if his accident
were a finger pointing at us.

And then the crowd came closer;
the police cars whirred and stopped.
Increasingly, there was less to see
or feel. Alone,
I pulled the feelings home,
as if on a weighted leash.

================

THE KILLERS

The slick man in a suit, shot at,
spins, catches the bullets
in gloves of steel,
and the deafening sound
sends the shooters scurrying
their ears ringing,
the gathered crowd cheering
for such a fine looking fellow
who, beyond surviving, vanquishes
terror.

Those lost on a trigger-wish
skulk off now, their hearts thumping,
their heads aching.
Huddled, do they make eye contact?
A back alley or the edge of some wood
will hold them till dark.
Improbable error--
having run into some kind of marvel--
won't stick; their narrow, terrible brains
will forget everything.

================

IN THE BOARD ROOM

Satan smiles in a satin gown
and the board members agree
he's a prince, a lollipop,
a lick of fire,
a taste worth keeping
high on a shelf
or deep in a pocket
till hunger calls up
or reaches down--as into a pocket--
and pulls that devil out.

That delicious intelligence,
all satiny and rose, sighing like a baby
lounging on a plate,
would be a morsel worth having
could it be so, but no,
it's eternity
spitting in their eyes,
a spoiler of more than vision.
The board diminishes
while those alive swoon.

Devil off the plate now--
he slides around the room
touching the light hearted shadows,
and then vanishes
taking with him what's already forgotten;
leaving behind
the famous sulfurous afterglow.
The smiles, when they appear,
seem stolen.

================

THE JOB

Sometimes this air I'm in
is so sulfurous, thick and unworthy,
I need to take much shorter breaths
to widen the zone of gasping.

My odd job is
to remember and write down,
with pencil not pen,
the most recent names
of the ones disappeared,
then I hand the papers back
to the state.

I'm not very good at it all
and soon expect a reprimand.
I confuse Joe with Josephine,
Michael with Michelle,
Sally with Sally--gender errors.
And, on occasion, I reverse the truths
of their expirations.

Stupid me.
They all went quickly I report.
The few law suits die in court.
When the air is really bad
we all lean westward
and curse our jobs.

But if I lose this assignment
I may have to push buttons again,
as during that sorrowful time
melting by the Equator,
counting children;
that was not a job to talk about.

================

SURVIVING STILL (TONY SURVIVING)

Under his coat,
well beneath his scarf
and smarting disposition
he knows to stop choking.

The exertion goes on.
He wonders if the jokers on the outside
are any more threatening
than those muckabouts inside.

Regarding a burial
and the significant weight of the box
he was overheard saying
"I'd rather be the one with
tears on my cheeks.

I'd even shovel dirt--uphill
if it were the last job left
to keep me moving.
Fallen, I'd push a stick."

The mourners filed out--
fled the scene, is how he'd put it.

================

BLUES

I've had my life
        and I've heard the thunder
yes, I've been right there
        and heard the thunder
rains came sometimes
sometimes thirst and hunger.

The load I carry
        feels like a stack of bricks
the load I carry
        may feel like a stack of bricks
and then there's feathers in my mind
money and a run of tricks.

Some men do fret
        and Lord knows they do frown
some women too do fret
        and wear that wrinkled frown.
I say relax your face
and turn them blues around.

I like a place where the dancing's slow
        and no one knows tomorrow
I like a place where the lights are low
        and no one sees tomorrow
The Devil's had a long run;
I shall not bend down in sorrow.

Some folks want to dope it
        and some want only to play
Some folks want to dope it
        and some only want to play
I spend my time with favors,
doing my thing in the natural way.

In my life there's been days of weary
        nights of pleasure too
I can sing about days of weary
        late nights of pleasure too.
80 years I look for.
There's a chance I'll find 'em too.

================

POSTMODERNISM

Zero winks--easing around the corner,
his black brim showing,
fire falling about his shoulders
burning close before cooling.
He survives every time.
He's a paid fist
on somebody's side.

If you think Zero's bad
check out Minus,
the post-modern freak,
reclining, a claw beckoning,
the middle digit on his right hand
curling, little spasmodic scratchings
in the air.

Minus is colder than ever.
Look in his mouth.
If Zero is modern,
this monster is post.