Stu Bartow in a sweater with a cat.

Recently, the poetry world was reminded once again that talent is no inoculation against illness and impermanence. Back in 2013, Atticus Review was fortunate enough to publish a poem by Stuart Bartow. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many of his poems I’ve stumbled across in journals. I’ve always been a fan of eastern poetic traditions, as well, and this haiku by Stuart – written shortly before cancer plucked him from us – reflects the gentle humor and wisdom that typified his work:

 

journey to the underworld
the doors open
automatically

 

Stuart’s partner (he liked to refer to her as his “consort”), the wonderful poet Barbara Ungar, was kind enough to show me his final manuscript – a hauntingly beautiful collection filled end-to-end with the sardonic wit and humility of a Zen master. From that collection, we are privileged to share these five poems, with all their grace, generosity, and wild magic.

Stuart Allen Bartow, Jr.
March 17, 1951-January 23, 2024

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1951, in Danbury, CT, Stu was a beloved Distinguished Professor at SUNY Adirondack, where he taught for three decades, winning the Chancellor’s Award. He wrote over a dozen books of poetry, as well as a collection of lyric essays on fly fishing, Teaching Trout to Talk: Zen and the Art of Small-Stream Fly Fishing. Books of longer poems include Whelk, Reasons to Hate the Sky, Questions for the Sphinx, Einstein’s Lawn, Green Midnight and the forthcoming Drunk Robins. His haiku collections are Quaking Marsh, One Branch, and Full Moon Radio, and his haibun collection is Invisible Dictionary. A master gardener and lifelong environmentalist, Stu was a founding member of the Battenkill Conservancy and served as Chair for the past 19 years. He was a true mensch.

 


POEMS

 

AGAIN

There was nothing to write about
so I stopped making poems.
It was okay, like a long and
difficult love affair had ended,
a bit of relief without regret, not
an amputation, but a sense something
missing. I did the usual things.
The marsh still held its magic, like
all marshes, unconcerned about
our problems, always ready to suck
us back in. I kept to drinking, music,
the radio, late nights. Watched
the back and forth of bluejays
in the woodshed. Wondered about
past mistakes. Why I let that one go
who would have stayed by me.
Once a woman in a club told me
I’d make a good husband. Another
tried to take a drink away,
followed me around like the bottle
was a chalice I’d no right to.
There really is no need for a muse.
Or a poem. But that breeze
nobody seems to notice
starts the wind chimes
and here we go again.

 

THE WHOLE SHEBANG

Before gravity was invented, the energy
that holds the planets and moons in place,
and anti-gravity, expanding the cosmos,
Dante claimed God’s love to be the force
turning the stars and heavenly bodies.

Unknown, the secret of attraction that guides
atoms to molecules to organisms,
shaping solar systems and galaxies,
humans, mushrooms, moths, stars, minds,
energy fields morphing into forms,
dream-like and stark, difficult to trace.
Such a simple thing, to step outside your door
and, perhaps someday, to float away.

 

WHAT IT’S LIKE

is a summer moth that gets into your house.
Because you like moths
you catch it. Keep it
cautiously, trying not to harm.
No exotic, but dull, buff-beige.
You can feel the moth
in your carefully closed fist,
as if you were holding inside your hand
a heart. There isn’t much time
before it destroys itself, beats away
that fairy powder that
the wings need for balance. Those scales
a strange armor
it’s shedding in the cocoon
of your hand. There isn’t much time
to get to where it came from
in the first place, to get
to the screen door
and heave it gently into the dark.

 

LOBSTERS

I miss eating them, but not much.
We’ve yet to learn the spectrum of sentience,
but surely there’s light in lobsters
who travel in caravans on the ocean floor
and release their little ones from traps
set by lobster men. Lobstermen, beings
from a faraway planet, come here
to visit the lobsters of planet earth,
a related species. What might they think of us
who boil their cousins alive? In Teenagers
from Outer Space, the aliens,
1959 teenagers, come to earth with a lobster
that earth’s atmosphere causes to grow
into a giant that eats people.
At the supermarket seafood section
I always pause before the tank, hear those
rubber-banded claws tapping the glass,
a distress call to an ocean far from here.

 

NOBODY SEES

I do not haunt. The house haunts me.
Often I am inside, but sometimes in the yard.
I never stray too far.
Sometimes I think I am in a dream,
or dreaming from far away, which means
I am asleep. The house sits on a hillside,
overlooks a valley I do not go down.
I move about the house. I don’t
recall walking. There are always people inside.
People I love. They are alive.
That is why I do not believe I am dreaming.
For if I dreamt, the people in my dreams
would be those I once knew, would be dead.
It seems I have little or no control
of what goes or comes through the doors, that
I’m hardly regarded, like someone old.
But I am not old at all, though
restless, nor am I unhappy. I know
I need to be somewhere else, but where?
The house is in slow decay, the rooms
changing, colors fading, furniture
shifting, on the wall a painting
one moment, the next, a mirror.
The house needs repairs, but no one listens.
Which worries me. I want to save them
and the house, but everything keeps shifting,
like being on a sea no one else can see.
Like being the captain
of an interminably sinking ship
whose crew is under a spell,
strangely deaf.

 

A man in a baseball cap and handkerchief over his face, revealing only his eyes.