the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Barry Wallenstein

Says the Boy with a Wart on his Nose

The girl around the corner,
has a carbuncle the size of my cheek,
circular, right beneath her left shoulder,
and there is a rumor around town –
Loverlee Massachusetts –
that one day we’re bound to wed.

I don’t believe it, but Sammy the Mouth,
trustworthy in all ways but math,
tells me it’s true - a truth to contemplate.
He points to her fetching ways,
thin ankles, muscular calves,
the sideways smile all of a sudden;
and there’s that datebook she keeps.

Lately, no one talks about
her alleged corruption, radiant flesh, her stain;
I see nothing either –
apart from her famous red rise –
and no reason to doubt Sammy.

She walked past me the other day
and flashed a look so fast I sat there confused.
Was that out of pity or disdain
for my wart?  Or was that a sweet yearning
after my nose and its surrounding self?

I imagine making it into her datebook,
after a date, a touch on the hand, a kiss,
a second date – proper steps toward matrimony –
and then years of productive joy
before one of us sits alone in a room
missing the other.


66 Park Avenue in Changeable Weather

cuttle fish
under a cloud-burst: this sweet couple
dashes into the first lobby they see -
66 Park Avenue  - and it’s warm,
and the doorman inhales their single sent,
their wet and chilly aspect
animated as they shake the drops from hat and coat.
Bent, they smile upward at the groomed kindness.

the doorman, Sam, with a plane blue jacket
and red bowtie, shiny dark trousers
with a silk stripe running down
to the tops of his shoes,
hands over a woolen blanket
and says “sit by the stove
and rest ‘till you’re dry”:

viper fish
and they do, but everything changes
once Sam steps out on a break.
Outside the rain stops,
the sun shines, and the winds calm;
inside the couple – now dry and still –
imagine never leaving the lobby
or the comfort of the stove.

puffer fish
prepared well will kill no one,
and Sam, returned, has a dish in mind,
something savory for the young couple
to whom he’s taken a definite shine;
but his plans are dashed by their absence.
He searches by the stove, the alcove, the hallways –
gone; even the stove’s gone.


The Man in the Mask

When the markets fell in ’08,
the middle class lost some numbers.
One individual, poorly shod now
and biting hard against his luck,
turned his desperation into action.
On a dark autumn day, in a flimsy mask,
he pointed his 45 magnum pistola
at a group of terrified bank tellers –
“hand over the high numbers
and look at me all the while steady
and believe me – one wrong move
and nobody gets outta here alive.”

The cliché slipped by his lips unchecked
and sent a shiver down his shoulder
and beyond the bank.
His gun hand trembled
and dropped its weight.

The sudden clatter released the chatter
held in all those anxious throats.
Slowly, the lines broke
and the population, confused now, [totally]
pressed in.


Towards Evening

Three men stand by the end of a cigarette
which decorates the mouth of Melody
who could be their heart’s desire.

Two of the three wish the guy to his right
were a little more friendly.
The third, glancing left,
wishes his closest mate were less friendly.

Finally three matches are struck;
Melody’s face changes with the inhalation,
as the others step forward – then step back.



Back to Poetry