The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Walter Bargen

God's Juice


Maybe Moses writes the note just to see if he can do it─see if he has anything to say. Maybe he thinks it’s just too good to be true. Maybe he wants his own secret, one that God won’t know about. Maybe he just doesn’t want to share everything, especially after the stone tablets. Maybe he doesn’t know if he knows enough to really have a secret. But if he wants to share, all he needs is a candle and a match.


He does a test, squeezing juice out the cut-in-half lemon, dips the quill of a pigeon feather he found in an alley, and writes something, a few words of encouragement or disdain all directed toward himself, then strikes the match with its literary glow, holds it under the piece of scrap paper until the juice begins to brown as if some small passion is writing the words. He is no longer responsible and can blame the match for all the banality until the paper catches fire and momentarily rises into the air, a brief black flight of notoriety before falling in ashes.  Now he can write invisible messages to no one in particular.


Maybe that’s something of what McArthur Wheeler, 45 years old, had in mind, all 5 feet 6 inches, 270 pounds of him, when he entered Fidelity Savings in Brighton Heights and Mellon Bank in Swissvale, and the bank on South Fairmount starting at 12:10 pm, on a cloudless sunny day, gun pointed and no disguise, no Groucho Marx mustache or Joker mask, no white beard, robe, and staff. He was clearly visible to the surveillance cameras, and all he could say after arrest was, “But I wore the juice.”


Under interrogation, McArthur claimed to have run a test in front of a bathroom mirror.  The lemon juice burned his skin and his eyes, forcing him to squint.  He even snapped a Polaroid and he was nowhere in the picture. Perhaps the film was squinting too hard or out of date, perhaps the camera was faulty, perhaps he pointed the lens in the wrong direction.  True or not, the gravity of belief is what holds the universe down for another day or two, so Moses continues with his lemon juice memoirs; it’s what comes over him sometimes─writing the unreadable.



Walter Bargen

Lost Music



The long and winding road and they’re only lost in northern Arkansas. A Beatles CD blasts in the cab at two in the morning. Under flashlight and a waning moon, the map says they’re headed west when they needed to head east to get to the Mississippi floodplain.  Thirty miles back is the missed turn.  Should they keep going, leave the trailer, overloaded with battered concrete forms for walling up dust and space, abandon them on the shoulder of the road?



The road goes on forever.  Mary’s heard that before.  At least, once with each marriage vow, and now each time the Allman Brothers is cranked higher on the CD player. The wailing nearly sends them careening off the curve, as she plays lead guitar on the steering wheel.   Forever, what a crock, she thinks, a warning preceded by an expletive, seeing who’s sitting next to her: good, bad, and ugly all in one body.  Following a falling star, always a midnight wrong turn.



Yeah, one for the road, and one more for my baby, and another, and another, but who could have guessed the road was twisted as Highway 1 following the coast along Big Sur.  In San Francisco, the Sinatra choir sings and swerves, swerves and sings. Mary wonders if any of the barracks in the Presidio are child proof.



Walter Bargen

Egyptian Pole Barn


Of course, Moses has second thoughts, self-recrimination is a little too easy, easing him into the hard landing of denial, but there it is in the barn as if it belonged there, had always been there, an eternal chrome presence. But what was it, wrapped in scintillating ribbons of light that blow in through cracks between the barn’s weathered gray siding? The sun dances through and applauds every newly exposed angle of his excitement, his passion for pole dancing.


Maybe it’s similar to the spiral staircase in the tick-infested back forty beside the pond that’s nearly dried up after years of drought, an empty mud-cracked socket of a blind eye. People keep showing up to mount the stairs, where Moses goes to pick up their abandoned Gucci, Prada, Rolexes, and Versace to fill the shelves of his second hand store, Desert Rags, midway down Jerusalem Avenue on the southwest corner of Oasis Street where the sand dunes are over-parked. He wonders where the people have gone and worries if they might return to collect their abandoned possessions.


He pushes the straw far enough away so his feet are clear to move. His hands brush only the manure-stained soil of the barn where he bends to raise his feet above his head. He air walks toward his own cloud pumped out from the dry ice machine. He’s changed from his Carhartt overalls into black patent leather lace up boots with six inch chrome heels, a black leather corset to contrast with his celestial sparkling booty shorts, a thick layer of lipstick called Sin, and riding crop that he uses to whip himself up the pole as he reaches for a heaven that remains out of reach as he seductively slides down.  Moses always slides back, and conceals his disappointment, his doubt, by circling the encircling of the pole with pirouettes that help him remember that he is just a part, a small arc of the circumference of circumstance and belief. His overabundant beard drips sweat.  Creaky wooden stairs, chrome pole, it’s all the same, working on this desire for transcendence while the Holsteins in their stanchions jostle, nervously wait to be milked.




WALTER BARGEN has published 23 books of poetry. Recent books include: Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (BkMk Press, 2009), Trouble Behind Glass Doors (BkMk Press, 2013), Perishable Kingdoms (Grito del Lobo Press, 2017), Too Quick for the Living (Moon City Press, 2017), My Other Mother’s Red Mercedes (Lamar University Press, 2018), and Until Next Time (Singing Bone Press, 2019). His awards include: a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Chester H. Jones Foundation Award, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009).



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