Tony Barnstone is Professor of English at Whittier College and has a Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature from UC Berkeley. His books of poems include The Golem of Los Angeles (Red Hen Press, 2008, winner, Benjamin Saltman Award); Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005); and Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone (University Press of Florida, 1998), in addition to the chapbook Naked Magic (Main Street Rag). He is also a distinguished translator of Chinese poetry and literary prose and an editor of literary textbooks. His books in these areas include Chinese Erotic Poetry (Everyman, 2007); The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (Anchor, 2005); Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry (Wesleyan, 1993); Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei (UP of New England, 1991); The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters (Shambhala, 1996); and the textbooks Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Literatures of Asia, and Literatures of the Middle East (all from Prentice Hall Publishers). Among his awards are a fellowship from the NEA, a fellowship from the California Arts Council, a Pushcart Prize in Poetry, and 1st place in in the 2008 Strokestown International Poetry Prize.  His new book of poems, Tongue of War:  From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, won the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry, and will be published by BKMK Press in 2009. 

Born in Middletown, Connecticut, and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, Barnstone lived for years in Greece, Spain, Kenya and China before taking his Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature at UC Berkeley.


He's cleaning out the trunk in which his clothes
are stored for summer, bathing suits, surf shorts,
swimming goggles, neatly folded beach shirts,
all laundered, put in plastic, and then closed
away-and finds a black and silky bra,
some short shorts with a tiny waist, a sleek
black top, all empty of her, as is he,
although she ghosts through him all night and gnaws
his dreams. They were so close he thought he wore
her like a skin, as she wore him till they
wore out. When doubt crawled in, she stored away
her love and latched the trunk and left. It seems
he catches just a whiff of her somewhere
in the blouse. No, it's clean. Too clean, too clean.



Yesterday, as I pumped cold water
into a bucket

and poured it over myself
to bathe in the courtyard of the Snowlands

Hotel, an old monk, watching
from the porch,

came up to me, grabbed a handful
of my chest hair

and tugged it painfully.
He had never seen such body hair,

I suppose. I reached for one
of his hanging mustachios

and pulled it till he yelped.
In this way we understood each other.

                                     Lhasa. June, 19


The Buddha of the South Pole

"...the most tiny quantity of reality
ever imagined by a human being"

A physicist is stuck in a bunker at the South Pole,
freezing his burrito off, and trying to detect the rare light
given off by one in six billion neutrinos streaking through
the glacial ice, and it turns out he's a guy I like
talking poetry with sometimes and before he zooms
to the snow cone continent he tries to explain neutrinos to me
like a priest describing the progress of the spirit to a child.
No, they're not that three-piece punk band
from Philadelphia, making dancers oscillate in clubs
then fall into each other like so much dark matter.
Like most of us, they have a mean life and a half life.
Like most of us they decay too fast. But here's the wonder:
these particles are so tiny, so unaffected, they shoot
right through the planet and through us without so much
as setting an electron quivering like a dragonfly's wing.
So today, while he sets up his equipment on a glacial plain,
examined curiously, I imagine, by a crowd of penguins,
I'm lying in bed, feeling gravity glue me
to the body-shaped indentation in the mattress
and wishing I could jet right through the world
like cosmic rain, a flight of neutrinos shaped like a poet
and riding on the magic carpet of a weightless bed.
No tax forms, no lawyers, no dentists to drill
through the crown to the rot and murder the root-
just stick my face in the pillow and jellyfish through.
I try letting go of my body, to drop without a parachute,
a little Buddha, neither hot nor cold, but I can't lift off
like my friend who's gone to glacial nowhere
and who sets up his machines while the unseen wind
whishes by into the heart of cold, thinking
he can measure the invisible, thinking he might actually
understand what distinguishes us from nothing.


Tony Barnstone Moonday poetry reading

© 2008 Tony Barnstone

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