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Tony Barnstone is The Albert Upton Professor of English at Whittier College and the author of twelve books. His books of poetry include Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, winner of the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry (BKMK Press); The Golem of Los Angeles, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry (Red Hen Press); Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press); and Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone (U of Florida Press). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and is also a distinguished translator of Chinese poetry and literary prose, including The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (Anchor), The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters (Shambhala), Laughing Lost in the Monuntains: Poems of Wang Wei (U Press of New England), and Chinese Erotic Poems (Everyman).   He is also an editor of several world literature literary textbooks.  Among his awards are the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, a fellowship from the California Arts Council, the Poets Prize, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and many others.  Recently, he has been doing multimedia work, working with artist Dorothy Tunnell to make a poetry graphic novel, with artist Alexandra Eldridge to make a poetry deck of cards, and with singer-songwriters John Clinebell and Ariana Hall to put out a CD of original music based on his book of WWII poems, Tongue of War (album to be titled Tokyo Burning).

A Children's Tale

He thought he knew the story of his life.
His story held sweet milk, rosemary, rings
of lemon, clustered fruit, and, of course, love.
His present held her body glistening
in the dark room with an internal light.
His past was hope like swinging bells that called
him to the temple, a light smile alight-
ing on her lips, then folding wings.  And all
his futures, all of them lighted by her. 
But like a children's story turning strange,
he now saw coats of thorns, wolves with necks wrung,
tarred fish and crippled angels, lizards, hair
torn out, and pins.  Somehow the story changed,
his futures ever after all gone wrong.

              (from Sad Jazz: Sonnets, Sheep Meadow Press, 2005)


Psalm of Snow

I had forgotten how to say yes. That’s the trick of heartbreak.
It makes you forget yes. The voices in my head were not kind,
so you took me to the woods to empty out.
My old shoulder was wired with pain, and there was a needle
in my hip, but we lay on a wide flat rock in the snow
as the intoxicated sun licked our faces with breathing light

like a yellow dog, simple in its joy, licking our chins and lips and necks
and a long wind came from over the mountaintop
and cooled our left sides, and the Sacramento River
wept through us like time, and spoke its liquid foolish syllables,
senseless, sensual, almost sentient, and I lay with my head
nested between your breasts and listened.

Time to climb, you said, and I felt snow-wing angelic as we snowshoed
above Castle Lake, leaving traces behind like snow rabbits
with webbed feet, silver squirrels, prints on the glass of the world,
a little evidence for angels to investigate after that death magic
resolves us to nothing again. I heard omens in the wind, psalms
in the bent warm sunlight that makes the snow mountains weep.

Something was coming, something foreign as joy, a clue
to how to live once you’re done with sorrow, a way of being
in being like a long breath exhaled, leaving a trace on the air
before it resolves again to air, the frozen lake, ice fishers waiting
for something great to rise, the mountaintop lifting
its white head in trance and saying its one good word: snow.

         (from The Golem of Los Angeles, Red Hen Press, 2008)


At the Retirement Home

I’ve had both knees replaced.  I’ve got a steel
pin in my hip.  I don’t hear you so good,
but I’m not stupid, son.  How would you feel,
surviving the Bataan Death March, no food
for days, no water, and the ones who fell
behind were bayoneted where they lay,
and now you’re marching off to death?  Real hell
is not old age, though.  No, taking away
the rights we died for, saying torture’s right,
that’s hell.  Hand me the iron and those shirts,
would you?  Thanks, son.  As long as I have fight
in me I’ll love this country till it hurts.
And it does.  This is worse than what I saw
overseas.  Torture.  In America.

                 U.S. Soldier, 194th Armored Regiment, retired, Brainerd, Minnesota
                 (from Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, BKMK Press, 2009)

Tony Barnstone

2012 Tony Barnstone

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