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By Walter Bargen

Sky’s gray sheet spreads icy rain.

Through the night we heard the branches cracking.

Now they bend with the bowed ache of apostrophes.

Backs to the window, sitting on the couch, we listen

as the radio announces the list of schools closed.


An hour earlier I inched my way along

the road, tires spinning toward the ditch.

Now I read aloud to a teenage daughter,

who tolerates my foolishness, my claim

that Lao Tzu traversed a more slippery world.


With two books open on my lap, one in my hand,

two on the floor, I’m surrounded by imperfect

translations: a gathering chaos; something

mysteriously formed; without beginning,

without end; formless and perfect.


She responds, Sure,

I knew that, so what? I persist:

that existed before the heavens and the earth;

before the universe was born. She’s ready to go

upstairs and listen to the radio. I ask,


What was her face before her parents were born?

she answers, Nothing. I ask again.

She says it again. Where are the angels,

nights on humble knees, the psalms of faith,

the saints of daylight? She walks out of the room.


I’m surrounded by thin books.

How pointless to go anywhere on this day,

or maybe any other, but then

the time comes when there is

no other way but to stand firm on ice.


Walter L Bargen, “Ice Bound” from West of West. Copyright © 2007 by Walter L Bargen. Reprinted by permission of Timberline Press.

Source: West of West (Bkmk Press, 2007)

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Poet Bio

Walter Bargen
Walter Bargen was appointed Missouri’s first poet laureate in 2008. He received a BA in philosophy and an MA in English education from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Bargen is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Days Like This Are Necessary: New and Selected Poems (2009). At the Poet Laureate Awards ceremony, poet Kevin Prufer described Bargen as a “brilliant communicator about poetry” whose own work is “subtle, skillful and wise.” Bargen has commented that creativity happens “where one’s imagination and memory collide with events.”

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