Walter Bargen


          . . . the vacant into the vacant
          The captains, the merchant bankers
. . .
             -East Coker, T. S. Eliot

First his wife, the astrologer, the diviner of
all confused tendencies, stargazer and planet
reader, knows that Saturn returns every ten
years to club us over the head, kick us in
the groin, encourage us to divorce spouses,
run to other cities with the kids, live
with gay men, as she has done.

Second, and in the same year, his brother
dies.  He flies to Seattle, closing his coffee
shop for a week, trusting that his help would
drink up the profits, offer unlimited free
refills, flood the sidewalk with the foaming
espresso.  He returns to a sympathetic
but disgruntled clientele.  He read
a selection from Four Quartets.

Third, and the year isn't over yet,
his father dies, and he flies back to Seattle.
He closes his shop again.  His customers
are beginning to doubt his veracity;
how could so much happen to one person
in a single year.  Caffeine withdrawal
cuts into his business.  Dressed in his
only suit he continues to read Eliot.

Fourth, this year has no end, or so
he begins to believe when he loses
his business, having forgotten to sign
the lease, yet continuing to pay his rent.
Competition from up the street wants
to open a second coffee shop and beats him
to his own lease.  He's out on the street, filling the back
of his decade-old Volvo with chairs and tables.
He's litigating antitrust.  He's suing
for the burned-up espresso maker,
the water was shut off to hurry him out.

Fifth, if in his end is his end, he wants
to know why this year doesn't know that.
His apartment burns down, the furnace
caught fire, and the landlord, suspected money
launderer and drug dealer, shows up with
two policemen.  The one dressed in black
fatigues tells him that it's a well kept
secret that the constitution doesn't guarantee
any right to privacy, his hand on his revolver.
He wonders if these are Eliot's dry old men.

Sixth, if not a new year than a new city,
time/space an uninterrupted continuum,
and he's the domino of disaster falling
that far and farther.  He's told a realtor
he'll rent the apartment on the West End,
but he doesn't have the money.  The car
he drives, overloaded and riding on
the axles, leaves the streets brimming
with the aroma of burning clutch.

Date of Birth: July 20, 1948
Location: Ashland, MO
Occupation: Assessment Consultant
Publications: Iowa Review, Notre Dame Reivew, Boulevard, Georgia Review, New Letters, etc.
Books: Fields of Thenar (1980), Mysteries in the Public Domain (1990), Yet Other Water (1990), Rising Waters (1994), At the Dead Center of Day (1997), The Vertical River (1996), Water Breathing Air(1999), Harmonic Balance (2001)
Awards: Quarter AFter Eight Prose Prize; Chester H. Jones Foundation Award

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