Two Philosophical Sonnets


Camera Obscura

Descartes installed the eyeball of an ox
in a small hole through which the daylight sprayed
inverted figures of the world’s parade
on a white screen in a closed room’s dark box,

like your idea of me, an image thrown
on the back wall of your dark skull. You face
the page. I face the backside of your face.
I wander lost, but I am not alone

inside your head. Something stalks this house
with walls of blue-veined flesh, with ancient casements
shuttered like eyes, the iron door a mouth
that opens on the dreadful secret basement.

Which one of us lies dreaming darkly there?
Who’s at the top, one foot upon the stair?

The Prisoner

She woke up with her head and body chained
so tight she couldn’t move or turn her neck.
Before her on a screen the grey planes flamed
and heroes wrestled villains on the deck.

Later, the actors, nude, enacted passion,
and everything was conflict, action, friction
resolved in half an hour in the fashion
of life converted into flashing fiction.

Behind her must have been a film projector
that cast the blaze and shadow for her eyes,
but she couldn’t turn to see the show’s director,
so she sat there filling up with lies

about a heroine who slips the chain,
unlocks the iron door, escapes her brain.

Tony Barnstone teaches at Whittier College and is the author of 18 books and a music CD. His books of poetry include Pulp Sonnets; Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki; The Golem of Los Angeles; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure. He is also a distinguished translator of Chinese literature. His awards include the Poets’ Prize, Strokestown International, Pushcart, John Ciardi Prize, Benjamin Saltman Award, and fellowships from the NEA, NEH, and California Arts Council.


First published in Measure, Volume 11, Issue 2 (2016)