Celebration for Willis

Don Willis, were you born or translated?
Your mother was a language,
a mama. You cried in English.
You cried for what you did not yet know,
a nipple and warm milk.
Your mother nursing you did not think
she brought you and 150 books into the world.
The Angel of Death cried ‘murder, murder,’
I’m talking from left to right.
The opposite of a crime is a good deed.
How many bodies and souls have you
and your children tried to save?
I swear by Apollo,
on Parnassus there is a Barnstone Hotel.
I’ve been a bellboy, a hall porter,
a detective at that hotel.

Paintings of Poets and Magic Couplets


In a jammed New Haven room, Jack Kerouac unshaven and breezy,
Mount Tamalpais, wakens and screams, Satori!


Dazzling Emily Dickinson
Contrives her poems with Moon born of elation and Sun.



 Dante takes 100 cantos to declare his romance.
Exiled in Heaven’s circles, Beatrice gains one shoddy glance.

T.S. ELIOT (1888-1965)

Even high Priest Eliot in Love (+ hatred in his racial pee)
Knows when Death Ship anchors near, it’s good to flee.

Narrative interventions

22 Poems printed, half 11 in French and 11 in English

Stainless steel, Aluminum, laser etched
Narrative interventions / Interventions narratives
Collège Franco-Britannique
Cité internationale universitaire de Paris

These series of text interventions consider the potential of poetry to be part of a constructed work of art and placed in the public realm as objects of intrigue. They are the product of an exploration of the relationship between reading, the object as a unique form of publication and space.  The more the viewer engages with the text, the more he or she will be displaced from the space of the garden to the space of his or her imagination.  In this way, the poem extends real space to a limitless virtual plane. Furthermore, instead of forming a concrete spatial memory of the place, the elements, and time, the visitor will also remember the excursions into the realm of the imagination.  The work is innately cross disciplinary and is resonant in the subject matter of poetry, translation, sculpture, architecture and typology.

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

My Father, Lighthouse Keeper and Priest of the Holy Typewriter

My uncle Howard was an architect who designed our house in Indiana as a modernist barn made out of weathered barn wood and stone – really a Barnstone of a house. There on display were our mother’s batiks, some mounted on wooden frames and lit from behind so the wax glowed and illuminated the colors like stained glass. And every wall held our father’s library of poetry, history and philosophy: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Borges and Calvino, Dickinson and Akhmatova. In a very real sense we grew up inside our uncle’s skull, thinking with our father’s mind, and seeing through our mother’s eyes.

Dear Diary, dear Willis

In 2012, I made up my mind to use my writing skills on my own life, for my own good. I wrote down one year’s happenings.

January 18, 2012: Wednesday

I look vivid.  Red-and-black plaid pleated skirt, black sweater, Willis Barnstone’s pearls.  I’m also vivid because a person of color.

February 11, 2012: Saturday   


for Willis Barnstone

is the moment the gods should step out
from inside the lives of things, and here
inside my own house, tear down every wall.
A fresh page, like a flyleaf turning over
that could be a shovel-full of air, then a sod—
only the wind can accomplish it: a field
of breath. O gods, you gods, who sleep
within things, who so often used to visit;
who rise serenely, and whom we picture
at pool’s edge washing neck and face,
you weightlessly add your restfulness
to what already brims: our too-full lives.
Gods, let it be once again your morning.
We invoke you. You alone are wellspring.
The world wakes with you, first things shine,
though we failed you, in every fault and flaw.

Three Translations from Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire: Invitation to the Voyage

………….My child, my, sister, dream
………….How sweet things would seem
To go and live together somewhere,
………….To loaf at ease,
………….To die as you please
In a country resembling you!
………….Suns damp like a brew
………….Of nebulous skies
For my spirit now with charm
………….So mysterious
………….From your treacherous eyes
Glistening through tears with no alarm.

There, all is merely order, beauty,
Wealth, calm and sensuality.

………….Some furniture that wears
………….A polish of the years
Would decorate our chamber
………….With flowers of rare bloom
………….Mingling their perfume
With vague whiffs of amber,
………….The plush ceilings glare,
………….The mirrors’ deep stare,
The oriental magnificence,
………….All these things call
………….Cryptically to the soul
Their sweet native speech.