Green Hills Literary Lantern

Special feature:


Two Poems from Missouri's First Poet Laureate,


Walter Bargen 





Beauty’s Sirens


            She mentions the butterfly weed

blooming along the driveway

                        beside the pasture fence,

            between a cedar with barbed wire

grown deep into its trunk,

                        and a persimmon tree

            suffering the same fate,

both have grown taller than the usual

                        thicket in which they huddle.


            She says to look for magenta blooms,

maybe a bleeding lavender,

                        only clouted at the ends

            of lanky stems near the poison ivy:  two umbels already

an opening ballet troupe with their tightly petaled

                        tutus, and two stems still budding

            onion domes, waiting to be called

to dance a purple prayer.


            Unlike the butterfly weed that grows

every year by the hydrant near the house

                        that blooms a popsicle orange,

startling as the warning vests of a road

construction crew, and this day

could be candy sweet,

            but he misses the flowers

along the rutted drive, too busy,

worried that he might

            run down a turtle

on his way to work.  



Columbus Day


He decided not to go to the Flag Day luncheon.

He grew up with flags.   Always out of reach,

the cable’s beat a martial tune on windy days.


He played with toy soldiers daily.

Their conversations, always the same─

more guns, more ammunition─


finally boring, but then he knew boys

who never grew tired of the shouts and explosions.

He watched flags burn and men be kicked


for burning regrets. Flag bras, flag bikinis,

kept his attention focused.  He almost enlisted.

But then he’d already sat through an all-staff meeting


and the cheers of approval that followed

the announcement, a collection box

to be placed in the office kitchen


to support men and women forced to kill─

at least most of them.  He didn’t want to sit

through that again, half-wanting to say something


that could be, would be misconstrued. 

Then he heard that Indian headbands

were being handed out and one menu item


was Navaho fried bread.

Now for sure he wasn’t going to sit down

to a potluck of Manifest Destiny


though the canvas stretched over

the metal ribs of his Conestoga wagon

in the parking lot is red, white, and blue.


Walter Bargen has published eleven books and two chapbooks of poetry.  His three most recent books are, The Feast, from BkMk Press-UMKC (2004), which was awarded the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award, Remedies for Vertigo from WordTech Communications (2006), and West of West from Timberline Press (2007).  In 2008, his twelfth book, Theban Traffic, is scheduled to be published.  His poems have appeared recently in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry East, Seattle Review, and New Letters. He was the winner of the Chester H. Jones Foundation prize in 1997 and a National Endowment for the Art Fellowship in 1991. In 2008, he was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri