2 Poems by Mark Barkawitz |


it’s the end of the day
and i’m about to climb into
my truck parked on a downtown
street in los angeles,

when from behind i’m approached
by a man about my age.
blackened with street dirt,
he wears an old coat and pants

and one holey shoe.
“spare a few bucks?”
smiling his gap-toothed smile,
he breathes stale wine at me.

“a few bucks?” i offer him
some loose change from my pocket.
he takes it, grudgingly,
and stares back at me.

“why you look so mean, man?”
he asks. “like my father.”
i don’t have an answer for him
but he backs away anyway

so i can get into my truck
and drive away from him
and his filth and his stale-
wine breath and his accusations.

passing another panhandler
on the freeway on-ramp,
the question is painted
like the annoying graffiti

on the traffic signs around him.
why you look so mean, man?
i shift into another gear.
like my father.

i remember him, yelling.
and me, yelling at my kids.
i look into the rear-view mirror.
why you look so mean, man?

like my father.
i don’t know why.
i keep driving.
i don’t know.



as i climb carefully around the steep rocks,
making my way back down the gorge,
the same shirtless, pot-bellied guy
we’d passed on the way up
stands knee-deep in the rushing water.

what looks like the same, half-smoked
cigarette protrudes limply from his lips.
he still grips a can of coors in one hand,
but with the other points downstream.
“ain’t that your son?” he asks.

on the shoreline below us,
my tall, mop-haired seventeen-year-old
stands over a young woman
and two little boys,
whom she tends on the sand.

i confess: “yeah. he’s mine.”
and ask tentatively: “why?”
the guy waves his cigarette like a pointer.
“them two kids got sucked downstream
an’ was drownin’ in a whirlpool.”

he takes a long draw on his smoke,
as if to let the tension build,
then exhales slowly, knowingly.
“your boy fished ‘em out—one under each arm—
like some goddamn superhero or somethin’.”

climbing hurriedly down the steep shoreline,
i can’t reach them fast enough.
ain’t that your son?
or wipe the smile from my face.
yeah. he’s mine.

Mark Barkawitz has earned local and national awards for his fiction, poetry, essay, and screenwriting. His work has appeared in newspapers (L.A. Herald-Examiner, Pasadena Star News & Weekly, Conscience), magazines (University Mag., Simply 4 Pets), literary journals and anthologies (Abraxas, Sojourns, Zyzzyva, Blank Gun Silencer, Fingerprints, Paws & Tales, Sport Literate, Mediphors, Me Three), underground ‘zines (Inky Blue, Monkeywire), and is posted on numerous websites (girlswithinsurance.com, thirstforfire.com, farmhousemagazine.com, voidmagazine.com, chimaeraserials.com, soulscribe.com, woofbooks.com, censoredpoets.blogspot.com). He wrote the screenplay for the feature film, “Turn of the Blade” (NorthStar Ent., ’95), has taught creative writing classes at community college, and coaches a championship track team of student/athletes. He lives with his wife, two teenage children, and breeds golden retrievers (Woof Goldens) in Pasadena, CA.