Thomas E Barden, PhD


At Pasquale’s Shoe Repair on Upton Avenue

They know shoes at Pasquale’s

I mean they really know shoes
And they know how small talk
isn’t all that small
it’s more like the meaning of life
For instance, did you know
the soles of your shoes wear out
unevenly, Pasquale himself says
Look, right there, that hole on the left shoe
That’s from when you get out of your car
You step out, you put your weight down, you turn
It grinds the sole right down
Wow, I say, profoundly
Yeah, he says, amazing
in England, it’s the right shoe

What Does a Poem Want?

Kurt Vonnegut’s rule for fiction is
Every character must want something
Even if it’s just a glass of water
But what does a poem want
Nick Muska’s rule for poetry is
It must be as good as a deep conversation
With a dear friend

A poem wants that for sure and more
You know that old joke
How many poets does it take to change a light bulb?  FOUR
One to curse the darkness – a poem wants that
There is so much darkness and cursing comes so easy
One to light a candle – a poem wants that
But that’s harder; corniness lurks there like a Hallmark card
One to show off – a clever light bulb sestina, art for art’s sake
And one to do the actual work
Going to Home Depot, buying a bulb, screwing it in

But a poem wants even more
It wants to be as sweet as a sun-heated cherry tomato in mid-summer
Somebody down the street from me plays the trumpet on hot afternoons
Muted, soulful – it changes everything
The air gets sharper and brighter
As if a cosmic light bulb has suddenly back lit the whole world
A poem wants that



What Isn’t There

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what isn’t there.”
  –Miles Davis

It sounds so easy when Miles says it
Be cool risk everything shoot up push the edge make great art
Art we still talk about in wonder after fifty years
But it’s not that easy, playing what isn’t there
You have to practice, practice, practice; replay some big mistake
Over and over — like that time in junior high
When the cool guys tortured the weird kid
The one who always had to touch the wall
When he went from class to class
And you kept your mouth shut
Play that kid, that kid, that kid killed himself
And play you, you, you kept your mouth shut
You weren’t there, you were afraid to lose your spot in the coolness order
Play that riff, over and over
That kid might have been a great
Astrophysicist, astronaut, president, doctor, poet, musical genius
He might have been hearing unbelievable jazz symphonies
Miles, before anyone else could hear
Some weird Bitch’s Brew that unsettled his OCD soul
So he had to hang on to the wall to keep from flying away
Maybe he had to pay the price, the price, the price
For playing what wasn’t there


Thomas E Barden, PhD

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Bio: Professor Emeritus of English, University of Toledo.  Featured poet August, 2015