Rusty Barnes
Rusty Barnes lives in Revere, MA with his family. He maintains webspace at

Poem on a Story by Katie Moore (Issue 23)

Five Poems (Issue 14)

Cutter (Issue 2)

Poem on a Story by Katie Moore (December 20, 2010. Issue 23.)

Sweating out my obsolescence on the back deck
with two skinny teenage sisters named Belle and Gladys
whom I have to fight bodily to keep them from

my beer cooler. I'm not sure where they came
from except that their laughter bloomed
in the upstairs and floated down to me

with the dust motes. It's heavy dark now, the moon
stretching like a freckle across the sky's skin,
a constellation of freckles on the little girl's back.

My daughter comes to sit on my lap. Belle & Gladys
play cat's cradle, crazy shapes I've never seen forming
from their fingers like spiderwebs, their calm hands

and little-girl giggles in counterpoint to garbage cans
being overturned by raccoons in the neighbor Steve's house.
Steve comes out and shoots into what must be a pack

of dogs from the yelping, shells loaded with rock salt
no doubt. I hear scratching then Belle screams something
wordless and my kid jumps from my lap to the stairs

in one bound. In my backyard two pit bulls
have a beagle cornered, snarling. The girls run inside
and I grab a barbecue fork and go to try to break it up.

It's impossible. I kick one under his neck and snap
his head back like a boxer. He lunges and misses my
leg. I punch the other one in the jaw but it doesn't

dissuade him with his thousand-pound bite so I
jab him with the fork, and he backs off with a whimper
and runs. His packmate follows, and I remember long

ago Uncle Jesse, who was not my uncle, on the day we
first got my dog Sarge. He slapped Sarge around his
puppy ears to get him mad and biting, then sat back

laughing. Later Jesse stepped on a black snake in the front
yard and let it wind itself around his calf and up past
his knee. Then he asked my sister to marry him and she

refused. I picked up the beagle carefully and its skin
came off in my hands. A soft whimper. Then the girls
feel the quiet and come out like nuns with first aid

equipment. I wonder how the dog can live without
its skin. I send a prayer up into the ether that this
be the worst the girls ever see of life, which starts

out wrong and gets wronger. I patch the dog where
I can; the vet is an hour away if he'll even come.
It's a glassine moon now, fed by these children's tears.

Table of Contents

Five Poems (February 20, 2009. Issue 14.)

Describing a Bad Painting Describing, for Christ's Sake, Lost 'Love'

Look: the fat ass of the moon rises
Between sturdy legs of oak. That, is a 'love'
line. Try as I might, your memory fades

into dusk like a lost 'love' poem
might if 'love' truly ever lost
itself; o the skies reign now

in protest, a silver-blue mat
weeps lines of turpentine
on the vassals—us grounded

folk, the ones who don't know
'love'. It's a tired thing to try on
in a poem unless it's about the death

of 'love.' Like fate, God, azure skies
and creamy thighs, 'love' should not
enter a poem unless like a rabid wolf

it snaps at everyone in sight first
and goes off to drown in deep water
or under a rot-brown log,

snarling rip-toothed at a fallen leaf
when everything else is dark like
'love' and its aftermath; when

milk-white stars rise like pimples
around that fat-assed hunk
of cheese we call la lune

dans le langue d'amour
but what 'love' really says
is ultimately—um—nothing.

Like porn, you know it if you
feel it. No one, no painting like this
of big-legged blues women

petting a stray mutt will
make it for you. The real thing
evades and distorts and pummels

you into submission like a domme.
Ask for it even though it hurts,
accept the pain as your measure,

bow your head to it like the little
slut you are.

To Offer You the Broad Side of My Jaw*

Nobody ever died from love.
—some bitter dude in some song

Sometimes that seems a likely choice,
to track your Hellboy-heavy right hand

as it thumps my cheekbone mit liebe. Or, you
might recalibrate the distance with complex

geometry the way physics tracks the electron.
By positing where my chin might be at a given

interval you can tell whether or not I've been
crying; or slow time down so you can see beard

blossoming on my chin before the blow comes,
before the blood swells and the brain batters

itself against the skull's thick cage. The question
becomes then which side is broad. But then

it doesn't matter. There's a bluehair waitress
waiting to blot your face with a dishrag.

She wants to introduce you to her slow-witted
but pretty daughter sitting at the bar surrounded

by slop and sweet drinks. The teenaged barback wants
to take the daughter in the rear and do bad things with her,

her mother wants her married, and here in Bumfuck
you seem a likely candidate for eloping, the foaming

head atop the best beer in the bar; after all, Mama
knows now you'll fight for love; what more could she ask?

*line adapted from Joe Pug's song Hymn #101

On Viewing a Holocaust Play with A Pirate-Dressed Girl Sitting In Front of Me

If you have the wherewithal right now touch
yourself on the arm, that amalgam of chemical

with water. Hear it hiss when flame kisses skin,
or the torture you make in your mind of things

which takes a swath of forebrain to understand.
It's better to depend on the hippocampus where

memory lies to you; engage your limbic brain,
forget it, fuck/run/eat. No one is more complete

than in their denied urges especially you with your
high jingling boots and corsair hat. Hit the deck,

walk the plank send yourself shivering over the
edge to the ocean. In the year 2053 a doctor

will unearth your brain from its alcohol and tumult,
show you what might have been. History tells

us anything less than six million victims is no
Shoah: we believe history because we have

nothing else to believe in. Gott is tot. Yet

learning rules some high school children pile
like the dead on a stage in Lexington MA;

There is a woman who paints smiles on skeletons.
Should she be afraid of a night of long knives?

Tonight a buzzard will unpinion my heart from
its wrappings of flesh and sinew. The bone I'll

burn myself in a barrel, a single tarsal at a time.
Of me, let nothing exist that can remember anything

but the blazing purplish sky and a woman's ashes
floating like a dark silk handkerchief into eternity.

When nothing exists again; we'll begin anew.

Loving the Dress Dummy

For Leslie Garrett

She said she wanted a trinket or something.
I hopped the fence by the canal and hit

the railroad track (wildflowers, I thought)
but instead I bent a penny on the rail,

gave it to her in a furtive elision of hand
movements and tongue-garbling talk.

I noticed the trail of dirt on her inner wrist,
a quiet throb of blood in her bare ankle.

If I knew another way magic presented
itself in the world I would have tried it,

like a blown balloon my ego can swell so
large it outstands everyone in my presence,

and as the crow flies due north there is sure
reason behind every trick you see in magazines

or on the tube but none of them can stand
to see your face in its cataleptic lust,

or make me feel my face burn at the way
your features coalesce in my presence and reveal

something approaching love. The ways we two
stiffs can make love are varied and pronounceable

as weather predictions but perhaps more stormy.
Take the penny and remember me to your

department store friends. I know they hold all
the world's gossip behind their featureless faces

but I also know I need not fret. You've never said
anything against me yet. Praise Jesus. Praise Filene's,

where I found you, propped against the Dumpster,
nude and nearly deceased but so ready to be saved.

Ode to _________

Tony little girls in slim skirts
never really appealed; give
me bluesgals with high stock-
ings and lovely round thighs
at two ayem in a stripmall
parking lot in Modesto CA
where we've been tattooed
by Jimmy with the lobe-
stretchers and those cool
blue eyes who parted your
legs with more patience
than I'd have given another
situation. Yeah, boy.

A woman I barely know called
me cowboy tonight. I auto-denied
it; but she's right. Nothing I'd like
better than a woman in a sunset
scene straddling a fence: the old
black and white version. That's
the way you tell old cowboy
movies from the new: In the old
ones cowboys kiss the girl
and ride the horse into the setting
sun. And in a new one—they get
poor quality tatts in Modesto.

Fuck it. I can't listen when you
chew my ear. I don't have a horse
but you can ride with me. Somewhere
at the end of the line I'll carry you
across the threshold of a sideroad
motel and kiss you into next Tuesday.
Just don't take off that garter belt.

Table of Contents

Cutter (March 26, 2009. New Moon. Issue 2)

Between the witching hour and its successor, 
I caught her with my utility knife in the open closet, 
drawing a dark rill of blood from her forearm; 
I watched unsure of what to say or do, frozen, 
more or less, in the mountain of air separating us. 
Wise words slipped from my mouth like indigo birds 
into the caries-colored early evening, supported by 
nothing I could draw on from reality. In the end, 
this poem will rise and fall on the relative success 
of what I should have said, known, thought, or taught. 
Before. Instead things fall apart as I grasp her 
by the forearm, press the brachial artery and try 
to ignore her pleading, I just want to die, then Daddy, 
then Daddy again. When all the bad things happen 
in the world, someone told me once, God's heart is the first 
to crack, but no one, no thing breaks our silent lock. 
I hold her in my arms; my hand fills with her blood. 
Her pale face a giant tear. Her blood sauna-warm. 
I wish I could say something shifted in me too. 
But I just wanted my daughter to be well enough 
to someday peek at me over the edge of a book 
and smile. 

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