What it Means to be Human
Poems about What it Means to be Human.
I’m a city with a past, a memory
of wind-fed fire. No fear is like the fear
of a wooden city on a windy day.
Even the people were on fire. “Throw me in the river,”
she told her husband. “I’d rather drown than burn.”
I’m Lincoln when he stands for President.
I’m the City of Big Shoulders and the World’s Fair.
I’m Millennium Park and the long lakeshore,
the Magnificent Mile and tallest towers.
The Cubs and White Sox, Bulls and Bears.
My names are Baby Face, Capone, and Dillinger;
Sandburg, Gwen Brooks, Hemingway;
Disney, Orson Welles, and Tina Fey;
Oprah, Smashing Pumpkins, Nat King Cole;
Jack Benny, Belushi, and Steve Colbert.
I’m “Sunday in the Park” and George Seurat;
the Symphony of Reiner and Solti;
Sinatra and Chicago, Chicago,
they have the time, the time of their life.
I saw a man, he danced with his wife!
A floating line of lights, the world’s planes converge on me.
Flaps extending, each one flowers as it lands.
Astronauts in space see something amazing:
a city rising from an inland sea.
My hands are filled with phosphorescent dreams.
John Barr/The Poetry of US/National Geographic anthology
She's sitting in the breakfast nook
reading the laptop's opened palm;
he's at his desk doing the same,
and fits the profile in her Notebook.
These two are not from ads but real,
and have not found each other because
the sky into which their queries rise
is thick with stars, and even the stars
are only a small part of the spectrum
of the noise of galaxies.
They open like the trumpets of lilies,
like Plato's halves they yearn to be whole.
Between them a universe,
only a little of which is visible.
John Barr / from Dante in China
For an Island Wedding
Once there was an inland sea,
its waters blue and beautiful
with absence, for there was nothing else
and this was once upon a time.
Out of this sea an island rose,
its conifers green with abundance,
its reaches white where the waves climbed,
and this was once upon a time.
Out of the island there rose a town,
its streets busy with men,
its harbor brown with boats
busy with cargoes of the time.
Out of the town a church was raised,
its walls in all simplicity
contained like hands the faith
and the fervor of that time.
And out of this church that rose from the town
that rose from the island that rose from the sea
a man and woman came and joined.
Their love was green with abundance
and white where the waves climbed
and beautiful and blue. And it held like hands
in all simplicity our time,
and other times and once upon a time.
We slept until the clocks ran down,
the wedding flowers dried to dust,
the gas man disconnected us.
Days without sound
the spiders darned and starved.
The world returned to work but we did not.
Steeply slanted into sleep,
dream after dream as things should be,
we followed the overtures of our vows
on tides of understanding to where two
together is sufficient and entire,
and marriage a radiant equipoise.
Our quest—for nothing less
than Eden and its innocence—embraced
exalted gardens all across the earth.
But innocence, we learned at last,
is not a state of grace we lose at birth,
then work a lifetime to recover.
It’s what a lifelong hunger self-creates.
At the ending of love’s labors, ours and yours,
it is the blessing that awaits.
These Are the Conditions
Two souls on separate voyages,
not just beginning but well begun,
knowing enough of the world
but still in love with what is good.
This is how it happens.
A passionate perceiving, a beholding
of a second center to the world,
a blossoming of incompletion.
This is where it goes.
In the single tending of the two
the voyages converge
and, soul subsumed in soul, the two are one.
And this is how it ends. It never does.
Love is the gentle absence of many other things.
It will be the last thing left, the final trace
when our kind is finally done.
John Barr / from this Archive, What it Means to be Human
For Nate and now for Blair
In case we cannot speak
I tell you now, before you are born
or even conceived,
that I am with you
until the round of your baby head
grows into the broken flagstones
of no face but your own,
and you go forth into good life.
In the hill of pregnancy,
swayed to the mother,
already you are you.
At night you wake in your day
and practice, a foot of travel left,
the last dive into light.
Balled like a juniper for the USA
you transit night like a northern state.
The moon the semaphore,
your bed the rolling freight,
I in the small town cannot say
what garden you are headed for.
Arms implying one another,
legs in alternation going south,
this swaying scaffold of bones
bears through fields
the head without a thought.
Blood floods the passageways,
the stomach grips its food,
the heart advances in darkness…
all while I walk,
shake hands, work the wash of events.
In seven years, they say, it is renewed:
each hair in its follicle,
each pore in its microbe dell.
Atom for atom, the valleys of my brain,
the long journey in my legs
A good occasion for improvement
you would think:
the same old scars,
all my mistakes preserved.
Once in his life
a man should know his body in its prime.
Dark drifts of hair,
the narrows of the waist,
the great junction of the thighs,
the torso lagged with muscle bronze.
The body's peak
on the long parabola from helplessness to helplessness.