Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Hail Storm

It's after midnight.

Insomnia has struck again.

The night is still and quiet.

Even meditation apps won't do the trick.

Consider a pill but the consequences of a cloudy head tomorrow kill the decision.

Put headphones on and listen to Amy Shark.

You Think I Think I Sound Like God

Can never make it through this song without crying.

My mind is rattled and it moves in constant motion.

My feelings are a Ferris Wheel.

I want off this ride.

The storm hits out of nowhere.

Thunder cracks and the sound makes me jump.

Lightning flashes and for a second the truth is illuminated.

The reason I cannot sleep is clear.

Photo by Prokhor Minin
Because conflict and chaos are cruel and blue.

The hail pounds against the roof with a violent ferocity.

I wonder if this house will cave in all around me.

I wonder if I will ever sleep through the night again.

I wonder what it's like to not love so much.

The storm dies down and the stillness returns.

Chester Morris, Dolores Del Rio, and Richard Dix
in The Devil's Playground
I watch The Devil's Playground and feel bad for Richard Dix's character.

I decide Dolores Del Rio is playing a very unlikable leading lady.

I know I will be exhausted tomorrow.

For the rest of my life.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Falling Out of Love with the World

Falling Out of Love with the World

I used to fall in love with boys
who played guitars in bands, poets, punks,
entrepreneurs, fledglings who knew how to
kick the cage, thrill seekers who took me
to where they lived, hoping I would sleep
away their sorrows. I'm not sorry I begged

for another dance, one more song, one
more for the road. I would ride
buses across cities for the chance
of a kiss. On our backs, on the hoods
of cars, the violet sky held summer
at bay, long enough for us to write

more poems. Our youth splayed, open
and on display like the attention-seekers
we were born to be. Sold, we craved
the carefree breeze. Once, we were
fearless and wild, threw our heads back:
we shot our laughter into the bulletproof

night. Every town sparkled for us, they
beckoned like broken glass. The shimmer
stuck in our throats, the beauty made us
cry. Just stop. Nothing is fun or pretty
anymore. All your heroes are whores
still haunts me, every time I stand still

long enough to catch
the unhappy ghosts of who
we all used to be.

David-Matthew Barnes

Photo by Warren Wong

Friday, May 10, 2019

El Novio


He drinks books of Neruda, Lorca, the words
around him and he gives them back to me, not
spoken, but kissed. I shudder from his grace
that for a boy of our age is rare. I am in awe
each time he turns to me. His dark eyes flash
with the fever of those who can see

Heaven. We plan to run away. We cannot
find an idol. To soothe our search, we make
music, to survive the tempo of the keeping
of our secret affair. We are sixteen, sopho-
mores, in constant reach for another world. This one
is cruel, unkind. Here, they will not allow us to

dance. They pull us apart, send us to corners. He refuses
to marry a woman. He is disowned. I think of him
constantly as I endure the endless search for another
sure thing. In my absence, he leaps from a nine story
window. When I hear the news, I cling to ballads, Spanish
poetry, his palm against my cheek. The gentle sweet


David-Matthew Barnes

This poem originally appeared in the 2009 issue of the literary journal Inscape, published by Washburn University.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A Few Miles Apart

I was born to very young parents. My mother and my father met during their sophomore year of high school in Torrance, California. They were as opposite as high school sweethearts could be. My mother was a beach-loving surfer and my father was a celebrated athlete who was a recent transplant from Jonesboro, Louisiana.

By January of their senior year, my parents were married. Although I didn't come along for another year-and-a-half, parenthood was a constant struggle for them. They held down steady jobs while juggling the difficult balance of being young adults and becoming young parents. Desperate for guidance and support, they turned to my grandmothers who lived nearby.

Although my two grandmothers only lived a few miles apart, they were rarely in the same room together. Remarkable in their own right, both stepped in to make sure I was well taken care of. By doing so, considerable pressure was lifted from the shoulders of my grateful parents.

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy, had been born into poverty. As a young woman, she made the journey from Colorado to California to embark on a new life after a first rocky marriage came to a necessary end. She met my grandfather when she waited on him while working as a sales clerk in a department store in Los Angeles. Within the first few years of their marriage, my grandfather created an empire of sorts, through savvy business decisions and successful property purchases. Their new wealth allowed them to live a very luxurious life that soon consisted of jet setting, cocktail parties, and socializing with politicians and the Hollywood crowd. It wasn't long before they were able to purchase a large, beautiful home atop the hills of Torrance, surrounded by an affluent area called Palos Verdes, with Redondo Beach within close reach.

My paternal grandmother, Tina, was a Southern woman at heart. Leaving everything and everyone she knew behind, my grandfather moved their family from the South to the working-class town of Carson, California. There, she did whatever she had to do in order to put food on the table for their three children. This included waiting on tables and working in an assembly line at a local airplane factory. Double shifts and long hours were not uncommon for my grandmother. During what little time off she had, bowling was her favorite pastime.

The time I spent with my two grandmothers differed in activities and experiences. My grandmother Dorothy was a very creative woman. In me, she recognized a shared loved for storytelling. Our days were filled with imaginative tea parties, watching soap operas, and crafting elaborate tales together. At night, we would perform living room shows for an audience of none. She would play the piano while I would dance and sing. After our evening ritual of eating Mallomars, we would crawl into bed only to watch my grandmother's favorite television shows. She introduced me to the world of Sonny and Cher, Carol Burnett, and my favorite, Lucille Ball. Although I was young, I recognized the look of envy on my grandmother's face once the TV was turned off and the day came to a quiet end. I wondered if my grandmother Dorothy secretly wanted to trade lives with one of the performers she loved to watch. It was on one of these nights that she gave me a piece of advice I’ve held on to since: “If an opportunity doesn’t exist, you have to create one for yourself.”

My grandmother Tina filled my young ears with constant sage advice, including her favorite saying, “You better live each day as if it were your last because someday it’s gonna be.” She taught me many practical things including how to treat a bee sting by rubbing tobacco into your skin, how to win every hand of gin rummy you played, how to find the best bowling ball in the bowling alley, and how to make things by hand. “If you make it yourself, it makes it more special,” she would say during our long macramé sessions.

As a child, I often wondered why my two grandmothers weren’t best friends. To me, they were the wisest, most fascinating people I knew. I posed the question to my parents and was met with stares of awkwardness and uncertainty.

“They live so close,” I said. “How come they don’t visit with each other?”

My mother smiled and said, “They come from different worlds.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but they only live a few miles apart.”

Years later after my grandmother Dorothy passed away, I visited my grandmother Tina, who was happy to be back in the South and living near Mobile, Alabama. By then she was a widow and struggling with many health issues. I loved our visits because of the knowledge from them I always gained.

 “Your grandmother,” she said, taking me by surprise. “She was a beautiful woman. Always so glamorous and kind.”

“Did you know her very well?” I asked.

“No,” my grandmother replied, “but we wanted to know each other.”

“I think you would’ve been friends,” I said.

My grandmother shrugged and replied, “Maybe we were.”

It wasn’t long after that when my grandmother Tina passed away.

To say I miss them is an understatement. Yet, their spirits live on in many things I do and say, especially in the variations of their advice I pass on to anyone who will listen.

While these two women didn’t get to become friends while they were alive, I like to think they are together now. Maybe my grandmother Dorothy is insisting on co-hosting a tea party or making plans for them to become a comedic duo just to entertain those who are with them. Maybe my grandmother Tina is giving lessons on how to create quality macramé or how to make it through a long day of being on your feet without ever forgetting to smile.

Or maybe they’re playing a long game of gin rummy that’s filled with laughter and stories about what might have been.

Whatever they’re doing, I imagine they’re watching out for each other, secretly planning to let the other one win. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Blue Navy


Photo by Guy Kawasaki

A sailor who lost his way discovered me
discovering me, dancing on the dark shore of his
own quest for peace. I was only fifteen. Dumb,
numbed by the ardent blows of bracelets, boy-
friends, parents who believed in better-left-unsaids.

He was a fire escape, a shot in the dark, a fucked up
turbulent flight to freedom. He said laughter was the cure
for everything. I lived for movies like Sweet Dreams,
cheerleading try outs, hot make out sessions with male
models at Lake Merritt, sleep overs at Sabra's. I breathed

in synch with the beat of the streets of Berkeley. A trip
to 7-Eleven equaled fruit flavored wine coolers on our lips.
On a midnight football field, at an all-boys Catholic school
I was the Saint of his sorrow, toasting to a life we didn’t know
we could never have. The night we slept together, I shared

my first bed with him. He didn’t touch me, but he held me. Only
now I know the difference. To say goodbye, he took the bus
from where his ship was docked three cities away. I wasn’t home.
He left a green piece of paper, a note on the black front door
of my heart. Words for me, my parents, the world to know:

He was leaving me behind. I left his memory on the edges
of the Bay with my innocence I have yet to regain. Like ships,
soldiers come and go, slide in and out beneath bridges and boys
who know better than to believe.

David-Matthew Barnes

This poem originally appeared in the anthology Between, published in December 2013 by Chelsea Station Editions and edited by Jameson Currier.

Photo by Jannis Lucas