Natural Wonders

man standing with arms out in rain roomPoems about Natural Wonders.

Tropical Forest

In the Zoo of the Extinct

In the Carboniferous House
a pillar of gnats stands in the absence
of a prophet’s glance, dragonflies flirt
with forever amber. In the Herpeterium
Dimetrodon, under improvised sail,
duck-billed Hadrosaur, helmet-
headed Pachycephalosaur
show you don’t need brains to inherit the earth.
Gigantopithicus (9’ 600 lbs)
shows what the marsupials might have done.
(Jurassic shrews, amounting to nothing, wait their turn.)

In the Zoo of the Extinct, passenger
pigeon rises to no final gun,
the competition among grasses is suspended.
Unaware of the weathers in wait, fry
of Ichthyosaur people Wyoming seas,
amphibia skedaddle in imbricate surf.
Armorial skulls, shelled dead ends, the treasured
thumb, the oops, the overtaken, overcome
shelter this side of extinction’s brink.

In Noah’s Park, Latin remembrancers
name the 28 orders, Odysseus asks
last questions, panzers plan their vector.
At the Ice House a keeper sweeps,
his Edsel parked outside.

John Barr

Sled Dogs in The New England Race

The New England Championship Sled Dog Races

The last race over they begin
training for next year, move to the Arctic,
follow the snow south holding part-time jobs.
They never sell a dog, breed a hundred,
choose a team, destroy the rest.
That one must do so much to excel
in even this disheartens me.

John Barr, The Hundred Fathom Curve: New & Collected Poems

Man o' War jellyfish

St. Augustine

I saw the Portuguese men-of-war
shipwrecked like a treasure fleet
a solid mile along the shore.

Hard aground they tried to beat
to windward, set their living sails
this way and that around our feet.

A wave would sometimes climb the trails
of slime and lift one almost free,
then lapse and leave the pooled entrails.

We tried to flip one back to sea,
using a piece of board to help
dig under—unsuccessfully—

then left them, fouled for good in kelp,
the great blue spinnakers to gleam
and gesture, either after help,

or merely sailing their species' dream,
judging the distance as before,
keeping the middle of the stream.

John Barr, from The Hundred Fathom Curve: New & Collected Poems

Bird sitting on tall stems

Bird Voice In The Halls Of 5 A.M.

theebro    eebro                            eebro

In the mild dark
the radiator is with difficulty white.

eebaw               eebaw

The syllables vary like a signature.

kohl           kohl          kohl

A new voice tries
the uvular, diphthong
of its particularity.
Fricative, apocope, an insectic click
join the tuning symphony. 

Again the chance
to go forth on the soft lawn,
to take, like my sprinkler,
differing angles to the ground,

to the    Aw               Aw
of a bitumen crow in hemlock
give jambo, the greeting in Swahili,

to each      each   chip chik                             epeleeklaw


Reply in the lingua franca  tjonn      tjohn.

Terripan looking around


Last night we used him for a centerpiece.
Pet Rock. Rubbleman. Sepulcher Sam.
Our Brobdingnagian wit fazed him
not a bit. The wonder is that life informs
the carapace (big black and pumpkin chips),
the legs that tractor earth’s unevenness,
the serpentine head, at all.
Only the eye—and it a slit of semiprecious
light—looks other than conglomerate.

Having no place for shelf life
we keep him casually corralled
(Does he go snow-blind in the sink?),
include him in what we do.
But the household god steadfastly will not eat
our offerings of parsley, meat;
for hours holds head extended or a claw
as if reverted to his quarried
origins, the living rock.

Perhaps he’s trying to hibernate
in a winter our warmth will not provide.
Or refuses, always, to respond
for reasons of turtle dignity.
Or fears to be soup, or hopes to lithify
remembering how good it was in the Jurassic.
The life within withdrawn, he’s comatose—
or raptly attends some call we cannot hear.

Clearly we're tuned to different frequencies:
the elder species and the parvenu.
Today you put him out for air
in the turtletight backyard, returned
to find him–Allakhazam–not there.
And as he was elsewhere when among us,
now he is a presence in his absence.

John Barr

photo of plant monstera photo


I know it's in the nature of wonder not to last,
but wonder now at your tactile vigilance,
the quality of attention in this new leaf–
how, learning of light, it unfolds and contorts
in the slow acrobatics of your kind.

I am impressed by your tolerance for neglect.
Latitudes removed from your Latin roots.
you're spared the hazards of the rainforest
if not the usual affronts to household plants–
overwatered or, worse, left waterless.

You're old enough to have followed the neighbor boys
to war and back, but unlike them you self-renew
and never know old age. Had Ponce de León,
when he lay down to die, only known
Eternal Youth bloomed just above his head!

Given modicums of soil, water, air,
new meristems will never cease to grow–
and death for you need never come.
In a world without end you can arabesque,
flourish forever as a species of one.

Which makes my duties for your sustenance
less the chore of an inconstant gardener
than of a monk bringing to the temple
quantities of driest sandalwood
that the fire of fires may never die.

By John Barr/from Dante in China

man standing with arms out in rain room

Water’s Way

It takes 500 years for the ocean’s waters
to complete one trip around the earth.
National Geographic Society

The prodigal returned, a bride running late,
it races from the street,
climbs the plumbing in the walls
to the bathroom tap, then halts.

Water is weather. Pulled from swells
out where cyclones make the only news,
its vapor ladders latitudes to the pole,
refreshes bergy bits, brash ice, floes––

or crosses longitudes to fall
as shoures soote upon us all,
then drain away to aquifer.
Weather is God’s will writ small.

Water is extended metaphor:
Its antecedent, alchemic character
commonly denominates
all things, in compound or by temperature.

4 a.m. Fill the glass.
Let the molecule from Christ
stand again in human state
even as it quenches thirst.

John Barr/Innisfree Poetry Journal

Geese Flying In Formation


I used to think of them as marathoners
raised to a power of ten: seemingly
indefinitely able to postpone
over Olympic hauls (four, five thousand miles,
a quarter of the globe's waxed face)
the need to flop down, flabby with exhaustion
and wait for rest, in its own good time,
to bring a better state of being.

After the bouillon of Canadian lakes in bloom,
fingerlings grown too big, air filled with lateness,
they lift, taking in stride the variegated land,
brick bunkers of the Bronx, the lay of Central Park,
giving room to LaGuardian pterodactyls,
the prickle of hunters on the Chesapeake
with their coy deceits, out over open ocean,
the earth's hull visible…

the camber and bell and hollow bone
(as grasped in the sienna studies of Leonardo)
working well, minute adjustments of the tail
with inertial certainty
keeping well to the right
the wrinkle of burnt Sierras, one side snow;
the desert incised by rulered roads,
by rounds of irrigated green; large-mannered Mexico,
the Mayan rhythms gathering to isthmus–
until you pointed out, two days ago,
that neither does the heart (not the "heart"
but the heart as grasped in the dissections
of Michelangelo) need rest, seemingly
indefinitely able to maintain
a heading and speed, resting as it goes,

through day's distractions, night's curing cold,
inclement weathers of every sort
until, after years of regularity,
it comes to a Patagonia not seen before;
landing in this new non-flying it doesn't need,
it joins in the clamor of its kind;
on shingle, inhospitable but free of predators,
just above the surf's antarctic burn,
it assumes the nesting rights established
when the pole was elsewhere and the continents one.

John Barr/from Hundred Fathom Curve


"Mm," I thought of your slash-and-burn approach
to pruning. "Cut to the bone of bark, this one
won't come back." Here at summer's end
I am informed of my mistake.

Not sooners, not Jack's bean,
not the Persian Expedition
or the Crown of Thorns'
infestation of Pacific reef
bests this vegetable version of eruption.

Out of the ground in a surround of trunks
merged half to tree, hand over hand
up downspouts, stucco, the failed copper of gutters,
green creepers the windows barely hold
at bay declare, from the antenna's mast,
a quarter of the house rattanned.

Even now new shoots depart the mother bundles,
like biplanes execute slow rolls, shallow
dives, the stall. Their leaps of faith–of six feet,
more–into the yonder of their kind
try for anything at all: the lob,
the double helix, the lazy eight of infinity.

In lieu of sight a sure touch for what
comes next, they find the grounds for another try
or fail, canes braiding themselves to rope

in vacancy. They base in air
small Permian fronds, refreshingly thornless;
lavender puffs the blunt bees bore and buss.

Under the overhang, overwhelmed, I write
"Offspring of wistful and hysteria.
God in my garden, rooted good."

John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve:  New and Collected Poems

Oyster House by John Barr

Oyster House

Blue Point, Skookum, Kumamoto–

In rings of a dozen they arrive;
each shell enthrones a puddled king.
Sitting with us, pitching in,
the hoplite scarfs his ostrean,
the lictor wolfs his ostrea,
the Breton gargles his huîtres.
All downed with a chalky, cheerful Chablis.

The piles of shells go out to the dumpster–
buttonized for jewelry,
pulverized for roadbed by the ton.

And what of you, Filter Feeders?
How do you answer the reavers–
waterman, starfish, gull–
out of deep time?

Let just one of you, turned female,
release 100 million eggs:
the tide dims, spat settle,
whole reefs rise
from your animal magnitude.

And why else would the murex
lift secretion to an art form,
if not for immortality?

John Barr / from Dante in China