Distant Lanterns

Her bath water
has grown as cool and cloudy
as the afternoon.

She rises from the tub,
wraps a towel around herself
and sits on the floor
with her chin on her knees.

Looking up through the window
she sees what light
filters down through the clouds,

thinks how much the buildings
look like broken teeth
even as their windows
catch the reflections of flying birds

until they become silhouettes
against the red sky
dimming down to black.

There is no moon.
The windows
look like thousands of lanterns
in the distance.

All through the night
she drifts into
and out of a sleep
restless as these city streets. — Jeff Barnes

13 Ways of Looking at an Umbrella

(with apologies to Wallace Stevens)


An ocean of nylon,
blue umbrellas
stretch out to the


On a sunny afternoon
a young Japanese girl
walks down the street
in the shade of her umbrella.


Outside, the sound
of laughter punctuates
the rain.
Inside, an umbrella
leans against the wall.


On a rainy December day
bright red umbrellas
fill in the void
left by fallen leaves.


"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"
the French woman says
as the rain soaks her dress
and the wind blows
her umbrella inside out.


They parted ways
late on a gray afternoon.
The rain hadn’t started
but they opened their umbrellas
just the same.


If my feet were clouds
I would take my shoes off
and run across the sky
raining on your umbrellas.


They feared their friend
was lost forever
when they found his umbrella
opened and abandoned
by the sewer grate.


All along the city streets
people opened their umbrellas,
set them on fire,
and waited for the rain to fall.


When the rain formed a river
the man in the
black suit
turned his umbrella
upside down
and floated away in it.


They thought the woman
standing on the bridge
was about to commit suicide
but she fooled them.
When she jumped she
opened her umbrella
and sailed away on the wind
like Mary Poppins.


When the sky began to collapse
some began to pray
but others opened their umbrellas
and hoped for the best.


The woman in the blue coat
looked up at the underside
of her umbrella and saw
another universe.
She faded, ghost-like, 
floated up and lost herself
in the constellations. - Jeff Barnes

Peanut Oyl

Olive decided that she’s had enough.
Popeye was a crude sailor,
Bluto a bullying lout.

Sure, it was fun sometimes
when they fought over her
as the blinked her eyes
coquettishly. It
was a boost to her ego.

But she had outgrown that sort of thing.
She realized that she was a woman
whereas Popeye and Bluto
would always be overgrown boys.

And both were working class.
What sort of life
could they really offer her?
She was raised for better things.

And so she decided that she was through with dive bars.
She would only mingle with the
upper crust of society and one magical night
she found the sort of man
she was looking for.  He was elegant from
his top hat down to his polished shoes
and his spats, from his monocle
to his walking stick and his white gloves.

Here was a successful man —
owner of the Planters Company and
an advertising icon in his own right,
with his picture plastered on
peanut jars and cans worldwide.

At last, Olive lived in luxury
and never wanted for anything,
except maybe a little more attention
now and then.

But he was busy.
Olive understood.
He had a corporation to run and a product to promote
so it was not surprising
that he returned home at all hours
and some nights not at all.

Yes, she heard the rumors
about him and Betty Boop
but she paid them no mind.
All famous people are subject
to vicious gossip and lies
in the tabloids.  It was the downside
of an otherwise perfect life.

She ignored the rumors
until once when she
was still awake at 2:00 a.m.
and, looking out the window,
saw his limousine pull into the driveway,
saw the flailing of a pair
of shapely legs in the
back seat, heard the
euphoric squealing and
"Boop boop a doop!"

Olive stood at the window in the dark
and waited for him.
She heard the limo leave
as he instructed his chauffeur 
to take the slut home.

When he walked in the door
she turned on the lights and saw
his face, all covered with
lipstick.  She grabbed
his walking stick and hit
him with it repeatedly
until his shell cracked and,
with her size 15 shoes, stomped on his nuts
until they were nothing but crumbs.

She packed a bag and left the house,
vowing never to return.
She always loved the night
but now not even the
chill foggy air could cool her rage. — Jeff Barnes


He called her Luna
because he loved those nights
when she would break through
the reflection of the moon
shining on the water.

He stood by the cliff’s edge
and waited for her every night,
but the nights when the water reflected the full moon
were his favorites,
the nights when she left her sunken ship
and came upward through the darkness
and broke through the surface,
seeming to shatter the moon,
sending shards rippling in every direction.

He called her Luna
and that was fine with her.
She liked the way it sounded
and enjoyed having a new name
as she had long since forgotten
her original one.

He stood by the cliff’s edge
and saw her every night for years
as he aged and she never did,
until one night when she saw him
shatter the image of the moon,
not coming up from the water
but going down into it,
jumping from the cliff and sinking
down to her.

Now, on certain nights,
they leave the blackwater rooms
of her ship and, looking
through the waves above them,
enjoy together the
wobbly dance of the moon. — Jeff Barnes

Rachel and the Eggmen

Days pass slowly for the eggmen.
Rachel’s bedroom looks distorted
as they see it through their glass shells.

There are no angles.
Everything is rounded.
The walls curve up to the ceiling
and down to the floor.

The older ones
have long ago forgotten
how they ended up here,

forgotten when they saw Rachel
for the first time
and time stopped,

and how they were subsumed,
disappearing from their world
into hers, how she took them
into her essence,

distilled their being
into teardrops
that ran down her face
and formed tiny glass eggs

which she put on a shelf
with the rest of her collection.

When she is sad
she goes into her bedroom
and picks them up.
She looks at them in their glass shells
and it makes her smile to see them so distorted,
like faces in funhouse mirrors. — Jeff Barnes


The baby cups his mouth over his mother’s breast
and breathes deeply,
inhaling the smoke that will sustain him
until he can be weaned
and feed, like the others,
on the dirt
and the remnants of petrified trees.

The descendants of the human race
feed on the Earth
like maggots on a corpse.
Nourished by toxins,
they thrive and propagate. 

They are as far removed
from us as their
descendants will be
from them,
as far removed as we are
from the dinosaurs. — Jeff Barnes

Her Eyes Keep Their Secrets

Her eyes keep their secrets.
At the end of the day
you might mistake them
for dormer windows,
their glass reflecting the pink sunset sky.

Her voice calls subtly
from a balcony
set back from the street,
nearly concealed by trees.
You might mistake it for the wind.

If you approach her carelessly
you may be surprised when,
from suddenly opened shutters
her hands reach out for you.

If you enter her front door
she will have you at her leisure
until she releases your essence
and lets it dissipate.
One might mistake it for rising smoke.

Scattered mounds reach back
from the overgrown garden
to the woods,
all of them unmarked.
She likes to keep things anonymous. — Jeff Barnes