Stuart Bartow

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Why not love the rotting stump, black loam,
volvaria bombycina, stinkhorns, tricholoma
transmutans, fungi, beings who will wait years
to make a body rise in starlight.
Because mushrooms are never dead
they love the dark, their mycelium thriving
in earth. Let’s think instead
about soft-skinned crepidotus, clavaria,
false morels, the shaggy-maned mushroom
that makes five billion spores,
boletas, puffballs, sulphur polyphores,
fairy rings, toadstools, earthstars.
And the fifty thousand species
of mushrooms with whom we share
half our genome. Maybe we too
will branch into multiple species,
if we do not disappear.
Mycologists must consider the sex life
of mushrooms, as some make spores
without mates, while others
become male or female,
mysteriously particular with whom
they’ll share their mycelium.
Many require a dying host,
and the most beautiful, poisonous. Consider
the deceiving clitocybe, or the deadly
amanita, destroying angel, sprouted
last night, wearing
a little white scarf, right there,
plain as day, in my front yard.


All the poems written
in my twenties
were destroyed in a fire.
Not a tragedy, there was
no Ode to a Nightingale,
no Mount Blanc.
There is only one poem
I can recall. My
fellow gas jockeys and I
were pumping gasoline
at a highway station,
the four of us
on a sunny day
and the cars in both directions
lined up as far
as the eye could see
the lines stretching
infinitely for fuel
and windshield wiping.
It was a Monday,
always Monday in such a place.
We were in Purgatory
and not. Only the drivers
were stuck in Purgatory.
We were working class angels
just working our shift.
We’d get off
maybe a day or century later,
and get to smoke cigarettes,
drink, find girlfriends,
whatever else
angels get to do
when their shifts end.


Suppose dreams work
by the same principles
as the universe,
in that the laws of the solar system
are the same in the entire cosmos,
that everyone has random extras
in their dreams
that come from who knows where.
Long have I pondered these extras
in my dreams
whose beings appear as real
as the people I know
or have met or once knew
but even stranger, people
I’ve never met before.
Who are they? Where do they come
from? Is it the Hindus or Buddhists
who believe these are people
we knew in past lives?
I call them extras because
they generally play small parts
like people in movies
recruited to be bystanders
or clerks or zombies.
But now and then one appears
in a major cameo role.
Like the freckled redhead
who was naked with me.
Where is she now? What
is her name? And you
and me. In whose dreams
will we appear, cast
in a late late show
we never auditioned for?


Stuart Bartow lives in Salem, New York. His latest collection of poems is Green Midnight, published by Dos Madres Press. Red Moon Press has recently published Invisible Dictionary, a collection of haiku and haibun