My Father, Dancing

Son of a bitch, you still have all your hair,
dancing with the French actress with all
that gorgeous skin, tangoing up the stair

and down the hall, your hand pressed in the small
of her back; and although I carry your
big-talker genes, shaman of the tall

tale, with a joke for every Rwandan store
clerk, friend to the Armenian cook, the gent
from Yemen, stevedore from Ecuador;

and though some secret gene in me gives scent,
a mojo juju dogs get frantic over
so when politely guesting at some event

in a distinguished house I’ll have a lover
whose wet nose nudges in my crotch with sniff
and snuffle whine; and though below the cover

I too sleep with small yelps, and crotch-stiff
kick in dream and nose after my share
of love; and though I also carry If

and Why, regressive gene of regret, where
is my moonwalking Shiva gene, the gene
of monster boogie? Where is my gene of hair?

Oh, I can find you in a crowded scene
by the white cloud of it that floats above
your headlands, but I’ve left my hair obscene

on toilet seats, they’ve been brushed off like love
from skirts, and though my way’s to clomp and vamp
and shove my body in a semblance of

some funky retro TV show, to stamp
my horse feet, fractured by the mirrorball,
tonight your heels play wood floors as you camp

and flourish, leap and dolphin twist and fall
to one hand, slap your feet, recover, pause,
then dip the actress while she grins, and all

the balding world is elegance sans flaws
when you, dramatic animal, you bow
and passing strangers break into applause.

I’m standing naked in the bathroom now,
watching the little bulge above my crotch
where nests the Peking Duck, the carrion crow.

Pizza and puttanesca bulge, I watch
you, swollen human dough, unsightly
blubber, I hate you, little Hitler blotch,

angel of death, and do a thousand crunches nightly
to punish you, Take that! And that! and I
was told this mid-life crisis would pass lightly,

acute, not chronic, and why did they lie
to me? What do they have against my slight
hair, clumsy legs, the burning wire I try

to ignore, lifting weights? Something’s not right
with my dumb brain, my life, my head, my hair,
and so I wander out into the night

looking for something in my car, or here
where milk is steamed and chocolate dusted. I
don’t know. Maybe it’s here, maybe it’s there.

It’s like that joke, perhaps you’ve heard it, guy
goes in a doctor’s office, says, “Hey Doc,
I’m having all these thoughts, I don’t know why.

I keep on thinking I’m a moth.” The doc,
not sure he’s heard him right, asks him, “A what?”
“A moth. You know, antennae, wings?” The doc

considers, then he says, “You do know that
I am a doctor, right? I haven’t done
degrees in psychotherapy. You cut

yourself, I’ll fix you. Brains, I don’t work on.
Sir, might I ask, why did you come in here?”
“Well,” the guy responds, “the light was on.”

I’ve felt like that, so strange, so lost, I’d steer
myself toward anyone whose smile unlocked
for me, any caress to calm this fear.

But no, this stuff about the sex-drive cocked
and always ready to go off is bawdy
bravado (ninety push-ups, screw the fucked-

up shoulder); just the words shoved out the body
by the bouncer of the brain and sprawling
drunkenly under streetlights in the shoddy

2 a.m. night and desperate for a willing
ATM; just my father writing poems
against the wolf who wants to make a killing

from him; just grief the thief of time; just dooms
of love; that’s just my father edging by
the TV set to plug the lamp in, rooms

of darkness quivering in its glassy sky,
my father hinging so his butt upsets
it and it teeters, falls, and then while I

watch, shocked, the fixer, problem solver, lets
his legs give way and drops down to the rug
weeping, I’m so clumsy, clumsy, and it’s

a horror—lightless lamp, forgotten plug,
the dead TV. I hold my father, and say,
gently, Hey now, it’s only things, and hug

him, breathing, Things, until it is okay.
And then my father kisses me, and glancing
at the machines, says Things, and there we stay

embracing till we can go on with ranting,
killing our deaths for now, can go on dreaming
ourselves alive, till we can go on dancing

Tony Barnstone

Tony Barnstone

Tony Barnstone is Professor of English and Environment Studies at Whittier College and the author of 21 books, a music CD and a creativity tool titled The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity. He has served as the Visiting Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Bowling Green State University and as the Visiting Professor of Translation in the Ph.D. Program at the University of California, Irvine. He has a Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley.

In addition to Pulp Sonnets, his books of poetry include Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, winner of the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry; The Golem of Los Angeles which won the Poets Prize and the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone, and a chapbook of poems titled Naked Magic (Main Street Rag). He is also a distinguished co-translator of Chinese poetry and literary prose and an editor of literary textbooks. His books in these areas include Chinese Erotic Poems; The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry; Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry; Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei; The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters; The River Merchant’s Wife; Twenty Sonnets for Mother;and the textbooks Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Literatures of Asia, and Literatures of the Middle East. His bilingual Spanish/English selected poems, Buda en Llamas: Antología poética (1999-2012) appeared in 2014. He has also co-edited the anthologies Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States; Dead and Undead Poems; and Monster Verse.

Among his awards are the Poets’ Prize, Grand Prize of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the California Arts Council, the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry and the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry.His CD of folk rock/blues songs (in collaboration with singer-songwriters Ariana Hall and John Clinebell, based upon Tongue of War and titled Tokyo’s Burning: World War II Songs) is available on Amazon.com, Rhapsody, and CD Baby.

His new publications are a co-translation of the Urdu poet Ghalib (White Pine Press), and a creativity tool, The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity (Red Wheel / Wiser Press, 2021). His website is https://www.whittier.edu/academics/english/barnstone
Tony Barnstone

Latest posts by Tony Barnstone (see all)

Author: Tony Barnstone

Tony Barnstone is Professor of English and Environment Studies at Whittier College and the author of 21 books, a music CD and a creativity tool titled The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity. He has served as the Visiting Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Bowling Green State University and as the Visiting Professor of Translation in the Ph.D. Program at the University of California, Irvine. He has a Masters in English and Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to Pulp Sonnets, his books of poetry include Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, winner of the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry; The Golem of Los Angeles which won the Poets Prize and the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure: Poems by Tony Barnstone, and a chapbook of poems titled Naked Magic (Main Street Rag). He is also a distinguished co-translator of Chinese poetry and literary prose and an editor of literary textbooks. His books in these areas include Chinese Erotic Poems; The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry; Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry; Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei; The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters; The River Merchant’s Wife; Twenty Sonnets for Mother; and the textbooks Literatures of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Literatures of Asia, and Literatures of the Middle East. His bilingual Spanish/English selected poems, Buda en Llamas: Antología poética (1999-2012) appeared in 2014. He has also co-edited the anthologies Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States; Dead and Undead Poems; and Monster Verse. Among his awards are the Poets’ Prize, Grand Prize of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the California Arts Council, the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry and the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry. His CD of folk rock/blues songs (in collaboration with singer-songwriters Ariana Hall and John Clinebell, based upon Tongue of War and titled Tokyo’s Burning: World War II Songs) is available on Amazon.com, Rhapsody, and CD Baby. His new publications are a co-translation of the Urdu poet Ghalib (White Pine Press), and a creativity tool, The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity (Red Wheel / Wiser Press, 2021). His website is https://www.whittier.edu/academics/english/barnstone