Nights with Oscar

by Walter Bargen

Diesel exhaust chokes the room. Engines work overtime.
Naked body pounds
against naked body. In perdition’s factory,
they push poverty’s gravity
another thirty days
and balance their lives with time-and–a-half.
The monthly paycheck a week’s resurrection.
Dark fumes, not just the windows open to the street,
but the oily rags of love ready to combust.

Nothing so vague and distant as the last minute struggle
to get beyond or back−
the distinct longing for both. Names no longer familiar,
the granite syllables turn unstable
and a wet month changes everything to lichen and shadow.
Take the slippery step backwards,
no stunt man to take the fall. No one able to reconstruct
the complexity of a single big-tent-dying dive,
not even a second’s decomposing. If not dead already,
hands folded
over chest, the light too quick for the living.

Across the floor and up the flaming walls, eyes tired beyond belief
sweat allegiance
to the reddened, rubbed raw, capillaried visions of days to come.
Blues the backstop
to searing speed, to this backstroking absence, fingers interlocked
in prayer to what
is happening and what hasn’t in every direction.

Even then no one can be certain:
who is still standing in the center ring, who’s crumpled
on the curb, who’s lying in the alley,
who’s hanging from the rusty fire escape, kicking their legs
in the air, who’s saving the burning clowns.


Walter Bargen has published 19 books of poetry. Recent books include: Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (2009), Endearing Ruins/Liebenswerte Ruinen (2012), Trouble Behind Glass Doors (2013), Quixotic (2014), and Gone West/Ganz im Westen (2014). His latest book, scheduled for publication in November of 2017, is Too Quick for the Living. His awards include: the Chester H. Jones Foundation prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).

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