Asphalt Heart / Bill Garten


poems by

Bill Garten

ISBN: 978-1-59948-698-7, 96 pages, $14

Release Date:  September 5,  2018


Bill Garten is the winner of the 2017 Broken Ribbon Poetry Contest, a finalist in the 2018 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards for Poetry, and is a finalist in the 44th New Millennium 2017 Awards and the Writer’s@Work 2018 Poetry Contest. He is winner of the Emerson Prize for Poetry and The Margaret Ward Martin Prize for Creative Writing and has been anthologized in Wild Sweet Notes; And Now The Magpie; and What The Mountains Yield. His poetry has been published in Rattle, Asheville Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Hawaii Review, Portland Review, Laurel Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Wisconsin Review and numerous others. He is a graduate student in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Ashland University. Asphalt Heart was also a finalist in The Comstock Review’s 2017 Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Contest.

Bill Garten’s Asphalt Heart will not just tell you what it’s like to have heart disease
and open-heart surgery, but what it’s also like to be an American who opens his
heart so vigorously to everything that it’s run-over by semis, Corvettes, high heels,
realtors, stock brokers, gun-owners, and doctors soft-shoeing their rounds, while
we all live in joy/fear ‘in a land of eggs over easy, biscuits & gravy, bacon & lard /
weaved in deer meat and Crisco in a can next to the Maxwell House, / when emptied
both making great ash trays, penny banks prominent / on the kitchen window sill.’
Bill Garten is a cultural guru, seer, and fine poet sending us a warning deep inside
a love letter to our strange land. —Mark Irwin


The beautiful poems in Asphalt Heart describe the inner landscapes of one man’s heart, heart disease, and open-heart surgery – and slice open, then heal your heart as you read them. Like the hummingbird’s “swift sword of hum” and the bat “fanged and ready” to attack it, the whole world of desire and loss is present here, sparked with sex, humor and a passion for naming the truths of our lives. – Ruth L. Schwartz


In one long section, one continuous movement, William Garten’s new collection explores roadways in and of the heart. In the best of Garten’s poems—“Adding Salt,” “Addiction,” “Stop Dragging” among them— the experience of a surgically opened heart and the heart as center of so much else join together in a sort of song. Garten’s poems show us the trail of where he’s been. —Stephen Haven

Asphalt Heart


On my morning

asphalt trucks
carpet new black roads

I am on
the ones they haven’t

gotten to yet
but as they ride

one truck

drips a glob
& it forms the shape of a heart.

I stand there
admiring it–-it’s fresh & new

hot & gooey, a perfectly formed
cardiovascular cage.

I reach for my phone
position it, take the pic

where it is now mine
strategically placed in my shadow

there slightly off center
–a tattoo on my chest

seemingly permanent
newly paved.



Whatever it is


There is always the gun I keep upstairs in the closet, but I don’t
really want to be like my neighbor, who shot up the entire right
side of his newly renovated house trying to kill a woodpecker.

When the police came he had to explain to them how he missed
& that he forgot about the city ordinances & yes, he had been

a lot of beer while watching wrestling on television all afternoon.
This sound is all over my house & I am pretty sure it’s a squirrel
or chipmunk.

I will be listening to classical while reading poetry & it squeaks,
like a screen door in the wind or growls like some small dog, like
my stomach at night.

The sound reminds me of those neighborhood kids last year at
Halloween, ringing my doorbell, then sprinting away, never getting
caught, just like me

during my marriage–sneaking out at night, like a teenager, to
gamble & shoot pool in the bar. Hitting the ATM’s, like a kid
pulling a candy vending machine, getting drunk

& trying to wash away my mind’s boredom, as if it was some sort
of mysterious stain.





Three months ago
I could barely walk a block

the surgeons sawed my sternum
like they were in woodshop class

spreading my ribs out
like a Thanksgiving turkey

to get to
the meat of me.

A nine-inch scar is now
hidden like my early morning

six-mile walks before dawn
faster than I could ever imagine

when I was half conscious two months
ago in intensive care still remembering

the one bottle of pinot noir
I savored on my back porch

waiting the day before surgery
I gazed at the tulip tree in my yard,

its leaves quivering like
my heart,

unable to be still in the wind
washed by the sun.

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