Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Windows on the Past" by Aliki Barnstone in honor of All Saints' Day

Winter, with Child, Red Wing, MN: Red Dragonfly Press, 2015.

Windows on the Past

I must have written these lines on a gray autumn day,

knowing the way darkness falls, as the expression goes,

like a shade drawn across the window too early

one day, and earlier the next, steadily dimming

the illumined clouds that released angels in summer,

whose wingspans grew too wide and whose spirits

became the fog gathering in the churchyard I saw

through the window. I’d stand against the wall          

just to keep standing, feeling worse than melancholy.

I wrote, “a sugar maple is inflamed with its own color,

with expansive yellow passion” —the desire

of a younger woman in a sad marriage

I’d rather not remember. When music on the radio

was beautiful, I thought, “none of this is new,”

not even a flute painting in my mind’s eye:

Chagall’s swooping brushstroke encircling the lovers

in a protected, unbroken globe, a huge green bird

perched above, or Matisse’s dancers, hands clasped,

circling fast, each one reaching for the other, leaning

into the momentum of their shared joy,

or the tender hands of mother and child portrayed

so often. “None of this new,” nor is the prayer,

“let none of these be harmed.” If only such human-

made marvels could save us, be our mirrors,

the promise of the saints, as the holy icons are

our windows opening to heaven and a new earth.

I count the years to recall—that was which war

or which eve of war? “If the air is still and a leaf drops

through an unmoving tree, it’s because it’s tired and it’s time.”

What a bleak parable, I must have penned numb, too weary

to “lay aside every weight,” as St. Paul tells his fellow Jews,

and “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Why is the question, “when will I find peace?”

fixed on the self, not on beyond? I hold my head,

heavy as the world in my hands, and mutter words, futile,

I suppose, against the murderous judgments of leaders

who have their own words based on scripture,

and who swear—so help me, God—just as I do,

and hope to join our voices with “so great

a cloud of witnesses” as encompasses us all.
 --Aliki Barnstone, from Winter, with Child!/WINTER-WITH-CHILD-by-Aliki-Barnstone/p/48144070/category=12175283

Monday, March 31, 2014

"Purple Crocuses," a Poem


Seduced by El Niño’s eastern balm, they bloom early.
One morning they appear, sudden like shining wet paint
splashed across the newly green lawn.

They’ve naturalized, their opulent purples
each year more abundant with drunken bees
buzzing between six pointed petals.

Purple crocuses with shocking orange centers
were here before I stuck my shovel in this dirt,
perhaps before the old widow, Elvira Lockwood,

who dug here before me and left a wind chime
for her ghost to breathe against
while the red-throated house finches warble,

who, a neighbor woman told me, loved birds and flowers
and planted the climbing rose of pale pink and milk
that never bloomed for us until our daughter’s birth.

Even as the hands touch wood, say this house is mine—
the barn, the fence, the rose trellis my love built
for the warm-petalled Joseph’s coat to climb,

the dirt under my feet—these purple crocuses
spread under the fence to share themselves with neighbors,
unownable fleeting musical notes for the eye to hear.

@Aliki Barnstone

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Dandelions, ©Aliki Barnstone 


I like dandelions, though most say they’re weeds.
In Greece they’re called wild greens.
Every day the sun shines this stormy spring,

I swear I’ll harvest, steam, and serve them
with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and salt,
yet I don’t make the time because I’m not

a wizard who knows how to rip the minutes
and hours out of the universe by their roots
the way I used to pull up dandelions and clover.

If time were a garden, I guess the sunset hours
would be the peonies and rarest fragrant roses
and the weeds would be the seconds that spread

into minutes and hours and choke the life
out of what I most cherish. Perhaps.
If I could harvest the dandelions and cook them

perfectly, I wonder if my concoction would be
eternity served on a white platter with a tall carafe
of red wine and a basket of homemade bread
to a table crowded with all my loved ones.

©Aliki Barnstone, appears in Enchanting Verses, Issue XIX, 2013

"Greens," ©Aliki Barnstone

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Greek Easter": A Poem from Blue Earth

Source: Selah: Thoughts on the Psalms and their Use
 by Christians through the Ages

Greek Easter

All the Greeks in Bloomington come here,
to Peter Costas's for Easter.  Whole garbage cans
of roasted lamb
beside long tables of food, and ingredients—feta, filo,
olives—ordered from faraway Chicago.

We say, "Kalo Pascha."

Vassili pinches both my cheeks and says, "Koritsáki mou."
We click our eggs together
and the holder of the unbroken egg gets luck.
I ask my mother, "Why are all the eggs for Greek Easter red?"
"The red is the red of Christ's blood
and of the lamb's blood." "That's sad."
"Yes," she answers "but the eggs are for new life."

She doesn't say Christ died for our sins, she never will,
though the neighborhood kids say my whole family
will go to hell for not going to church on Sundays.

To me, equal to Christ's story is the story of "that Helen,"
who was beautiful
and ran away to Troy in spite of marriage and kin.
The sorrows, the strategies, the triumphs of the gods—
each is a red egg
piled high in a bowl.

I walk under the grape arbor, which is still in winter.
At dusk dancing begins.
My father leaps and turns in the air, arms spread
like island windmill sails. Then he holds the handkerchief
for my mother to lead, quick-footed and laughing.

My parents are beautiful. I wonder if they love each other,
though I'm sure they do, I'm not sure I believe what I see—

I go inside and sit with Doctor Frank.
His voice is calming, deep and slow.
Then I go outside and see
smoke and a small fire backlighting the corner of the yard
where my brothers and some other boys
compete to pee the highest, broadest arc.

I look at my white shoes. I can smell the delicious lamb.

~Aliki Barnstone, from Blue Earth (Iris Press, 2004) and Dear God: Dear Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2009)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clean Monday

Icon depicting The Ladder of Divine Ascent
(12 C., St. Catherine's Mondastery, Sinai)
Clean Monday or Bright Monday is the first day of Great Lent in Eastern Orthodoxy and is a national holiday in Greece. People clean their homes, fly kites, and go on outdoor excursions. Shellfish and octopus are Lenten foods.

Clean Monday

Dark ceases in his light, so they say.
I want to belong to him lifelong.
Same old song, old song, old song.

Black leaves in daylight.
Black leaves rot on the lawn.
Why have I done so much wrong?

Why do I see dark branches in blue sky,
lead filaments joining stained glass,
a cosmos that shows not the ark,

not radiant halos of the saints,
not his hand and kiss, his grace.
In my daylit trance the dark branches split

and split again, the patterns of my years
I should convert. I’ve been a bride
more than once, an unblessed fool

whose house is a mess. It is Clean Monday,
the first day of Lent, time to repent with joy,
as they do in Greece, to scour our rooms

of moth and rust, then go outside, uncorrupt,
and eat shellfish and octopus by the sea,
where clean-hearted souls fill the sky

with kites. If only he would invite me
to a picnic, too, and we’d eat Lenten food
beneath a plane tree ready for spring.

Maybe then I’d forget that same old song
gone wrong, oh Lord, and set aside my wit
that won’t submit to trust or let me be adored.