13.4 (Summer 2009)   The 2River View AuthorsPoemsPDFMake a bookArchives2River

Walter Bargen

Days Like This Are Necessary


Fifteen men, the beginning of a pirate’s song,
and the dead man’s chest, a premonition, a prophecy,
a treasure too dark to be opened alive.
Disregard that they are called soldiers
dressed in combat fatigues, crowded
into the body of a helicopter, their weapons
on safety─a bad joke. They’ve been given leave,
are being ferried to an airport, away from
skirmishes, frontlines that are every street,
alley, roof, door, window, and at that moment
when the whump, whump, whump of turning blades
is the air’s homing heartbeat, a harvesting scythe,
the helicopter missiled, is a flaming meteor,
scattering fifteen men across a desert,
others mangled in ways we are never told
but know, as in the song fifteen men
on a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum.

An Asian ladybug whirs onto my shoulder.
I’m surprised to hear the dim dental drill
of its wings so late in the year, and how it clings
to my plaid shirt. I carefully remove it,
send it on its way, an infestation
I can’t battle, can’t win, and live with,
accepting, admiring their tenacity.
It’s unseasonably warm, wind from the south.
The crows are mewing like cats. Jays crowd
a dead elm, shrieking in defiance.
Small birds twitter their way through
the underbrush finding what’s overlooked.
Leaves are falling casualties.
Shards of sunlight mark their down turning.
Days like this are necessary.



Even after the girl who sits politely
with one leg crossed over the other,
print dress ending at her knees,
in her lap rests a pair of flesh-colored
plastic feet, so tranquil, as if they just
returned from a stroll through fallen
leaves, having kicked up a trail,
feeling the earth turning cool
and dormant, seeing a turtle back
its shell into the mud of hibernation,
a frog slow in its leap from the creek
bank, as if the water were no longer
a hidden place. These smooth-molded
feet like a purse with toes, there resting
in the folds of her dress, open below
the ankles, the holes waiting for her
to drop in the small change of her
life, long after the blades swept down,
the audience hears the dull impact:
thunk, thunk, thunk,
the targets deep in their seats,
they see her hemline and what touches
the floor, a space made for feet.


Not even the sound of one hand
after she finishes speaking.
The audience’s stares amputated
from their faces. Wrenched
out of their seats, they remain seated.
The shells of their ears washed up
On another shore, deaf.
Deep in the meat of their bodies
they hear. From the bottom
of their pockets and purses, the space
between sock and shoe, something
that will never shake free of their
tweeds and blouses. It will be there
on the drive home, and later
after cocktails, the tiramisu will
ooze in a way they’ve never noticed.
For now she sits quietly
on stage, in the glare that details
the reconstruction of a flamed life.
She is beyond friendship.
She remains locked in her room.
In front of hundreds,
she remains behind the door
of her skin, the frozen rippled topography
of heat, her forged, fused face.

Walter Bargen has published twelve books of poetry and two chapbooks, including
The Feast (BkMk Press-UMKC, 2004), winner of the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award;
Remedies for Vertigo
(WordTech Communications, 2006); West of West (Timberline Press, 2007);
and Theban Traffic (WordTech Communications, 2008). In 2009, BkMk Press-UMKC will publish
Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems. His poems have recently appeared in New Letters,
Poetry East,
and The Seattle Review. Bargen is the first poet laureate (2008-2009) of Missouri.