Holidays & Remembrance Days

Poems about Holidays and Celebrations.

shepherd tending flock of sheep at night


And there were shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Luke 2:8

To them Orion was not a huntsman
but a shepherd of the lambent.

Safe from Leo, Lupus, Taurus
his charges followed him to dawn,

counted and content
to know they would persist

when daylight
rendered them no longer visible.

Not souls—not yet—they were signifiers
ready to be metaphors.

by John Barr

Noel Read More »

Civil War battle scene

Dante at Shiloh

Civil War battle scene
From the original painting by Mort Künstler The Angle  © 1988 Mort Künstler, Inc.

Dante at Shiloh


I found myself in the aftermath.
Cannonades had set the woods ablaze,
felled whole trees, swept the earth

with canister and grape. From bodies
and body parts heaped up by musketry
(Aim low and be deliberate, boys.)

a strangeling crawled––Blue or Gray
I couldn’t tell––from the Minié balls’ last meal.
Straining to break their cannon free,

dead horses, still in harness, hauled.
Voices out of the burning undergrowth
wept for water as the field fell still.

At the iron dice of war, both sides lost.
Wild pigs won, squabbling over their feast.


It started to rain and with it came a troupe
of orators––men of God,
carpetbaggers of every stripe.

Gingerly, to avoid the mud,
they stepped from one corpse to the next,
crossing the swamp, slipping on blood.

One started to speak, “Brethren in Christ…”
but stopped, perplexed, to see another man
wearing his face. This progressed,

speaker after speaker, until soon
each searched in panic through the group,
and when he found his stolen face, that one

he mounted and buggered, like boar on boar–
in self-love or -loathing, I wasn’t sure.

John Barr/Innisfree Poetry Journal

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The Hove by John Barr image

The Hove (Memorial Day)

Such as there was in the littleness of that dawn
could not be this. Not, certainly, the hove
of an invasion fleet from Angleterre,
flotilla wrought of shipwright, chandler, armorer
as if Ice Age breeding stocks were on the move.

The Planners had their weather oracles,
haruspices their entrails. All divined
the red planet aligned, full-moon
visibility, high tides to clear
the beachhead obstacles — but iffy weather.

Gulls glean the wakes. Something of a factory —
diesel and air and the Jersey spirit spark —
of the hydrocarbon Gloriana makes
ungainly way in the valleys of the swells.
The shore emerges quaquaversally.

A Very pistol throats the air. Battlewagons
wheel for the presentation of the agon.
Shades of sherry fill the clouds with light.
Mike boats enter surf’s unscrolling rolls.
Empty jaws agape, the gods take note.

The odors of the offering, so rich
they start saliva flowing, must be painful
for the gods: not preamble for the meal,
the meal itself. Famished
they try to gorge the oily cooking smoke.

Amphibious landings to prevail require
the triumph of the small; circle in circle
perfected on parade grounds of the soul.
Committing an empire to the fire
calls for just-in-time ferocity.

They eat the savage honey. The boys pound sand.
Green eyes gammoning they all pound sand
until for the battle there was nothing left that day
but what the carrion patrols collect
for Paternosterers to sacristy.

They’re strong, these Irish penny whistle songs.
Just the one wild tone working alone
the registers, trying the proper sound
for sorrow. Ours for theirs,
theirs for theirs, ours for ours.

So many shouldering forward, enjambed
now cross the Styx with the ease of smoke
passing through a window screen    ...    depart
the shapes of things continuing for shapes
supercooled to the stillness of mortmain.

The business of the flag is never done.
It fills in the wind and fails, but never the same
akimbo twice. Each snap a fresh report
from acres of tended lawn
rankled by crosses perfectly plumb.

John Barr / from Poetry Magazine

The Hove (Memorial Day) Read More »

Black Powder

Black Powder (4th of July)

Saltpeter, to sailors who swore the cooks
put it in the eggs to keep their cocks in check;
Nitre, to alchemists who dreamed
of turning lead to gold;
Potassium Nitrate, to the druggist who asked
the boy what he would do with that.

The ancient Chinese recipe:
Mix with sulfur, charcoal
seven parts to one to two.
Grind it fine as talc.

What he would do is strike a match, then watch
the blaze of self-discovery––
the boyhood burn to master
the forbidden and impossible––
choking the basement with smoke
from what could sink a ship at Scapa Flow.

John Barr/from War, Literature & the Arts

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Restoration by John Barr image

Three Poems for Labor Day

Three Poems for Labor Day

The artisan as a youth; the artisan as master of his craft; the artisan and his dream.

Restoration by John Barr image

Hunting For A Tool

I stand by the basement shelves
breathing the odor of the mouse who died
of love for cardboard, powders or tar.
Here is sandpaper with its bite of wood,
bottles with labels telling what to do.
No carpenter, I go to the bins below.

Early TV's, radios built like chapels,
vacuum tubes with silvered skulls.
My father accumulated in the dream
of hams: to tune the babble of frequencies–
Augustan time checks ... the BBC–
to make Marconi's leap
and travel in the company of light.

I relish the clean-cut teeth of gears,
a rheostat devoid of ohms.
A magnet feeling steel still pulls.
A lump of lead still wraps the hand
around itself, expressing heft.
Still waiting for its proper use,
a light bulb rattles its tungsten tongue.

by John Barr


She likes the long maple workbench, the tools
and stickered boards. She likes to watch a flitch
re-sawn, opened, and matched up with its mate
to read as if a book. She likes the rules, squares,
and marking knives, the sliding bevel gauge,
the trammel points and templates of French curves,
the lines they make for chisels, shaves, and saws.
She likes the hand-stitched rasp, the way its teeth
perfect a shape; the linseed oil and turpentine,
coat after coat, and how the pumice rubs
a luster that invites an eye to look,
a hand to linger. She likes the finished piece
placed in its place, to have it seen, as if
to speak of what it means to be complete.

by Jim Haines

Measure, A Review of Formal Poetry, Volume XI Issue 2, 2016
Reprinted with permission of the poet.


I love to recover the quality
of things in decline.
To scour stone, scale paint from brick,
to compel, with wire brush,
the flourish wrought by iron.
To refinish wood, solving for
forgotten grain.
To give, by weeding our stone wall
back its dignity.
To left and right the borders of our lot,
to square the corners of our keep.

I have even dreamed: pushing a pushcart,
I stop anywhere and start
doing what needs to be done.
The first building takes time,
replacing windows, curing the roof.
I know compromises must be made
and make none, a floor at a time.

I work along an interstate
a century after Johnny Appleseed.
A modest people makes me chief.
(They, too, enjoy the hazy shine
of finished work by last light.)
Storm drains relieved, brick walks relaid,
a heritage of dust and wrappers
is renounced. The square square,
trim trim, the town for once
is like an artist's conception of the town.

by John Barr


Three Poems for Labor Day Read More »

Manhattan Morning (9/11)

I. The Mirror of Arcadia

You know how it is in August in New York.
Summer over, the populace returns.
From old houses on the Cape
lawyers return to the temperament of neckties.
From chardonnays in island hideaways
traders return, their animus renewed.
From tranquil gossip on the Jersey shore
to idle gossip on the trains, we all return.

You know how it is. The newsboy tends
his hundreds of small relationships,
the Stock Exchange its googles of worm-wired trades.
With doming regularity the shells
of exquisite dynamos pulse power, the wheels
of the city mend and turn, the gear box makes.

In August now September
the city's towers take their turn
an airplane's height above the sparkling plain,
the Hudson folds into the bay's embrace.

High up, the silver pin of a plane catches the sun.


II. The Man Who Was Made Out of Alarm Clocks

Out of the primitive hold of early maps
they come, an anonymity of feet.
Out of unabated wilderness,
kingdoms of vanished shade,
they come to beckoning shores of oblivion.
Out of the white spaces on our maps,
places overwhelmed with what's not there,
they come, the unexplored libido of Arabia,
to the rally of catastrophe.

Men who consider themselves mainsprings of God
think kindness weakness, modesty unnecessary.
Próduce of an undernourished universe,
of things that have no wellness in the level world,
they seek to sunder the turnbuckles of experience.
They have the tools to make car engines
an obstruction, a car a dance of tires.
They understand the flammability of rubber,
the role of concrete in structural collapse.

One not among them, taller by a head,
stands a head closer to God.
A lank man, put together long,
his face is like a slice of chaos.
Steeped in an ancient clandestine,
he is present by being absent.
He is in the business of mystique.
He sings to the faithful who would have
our hearts out whole,
One, two, buckle and do.
He sings the beginnings of songs,
not the centers, never the ends.
One, two, buckle your brother's shoe.
To us he speaks a disconnected gloom.
I mean you harm.

The plane descends with a flattening urgency.


III. The Bone Dance

The air has found its voice, the wind comes in…
two clicks–and a great flower of flame comes out.
It is the season of laws.
Here are the blows of stated time,
the blossoming of de facto.
Within the remarkable arena of fire
the persistence of flame provokes more flame.
The fire-softened girders deform,
the grid makes of itself what it will.
It browns and cherries and excoriates.
It reaches pitches to escape.
It yields to the claims of carbon black.
Exploded doors, downhauls of nothingness:
The dark dreaming thing it is to die.

And this is how the heart goes home.
When it rains in heaven
the dead open their parasols like copper hosannas.
The porches resound.
The rain, round-shouldered, warm,
comes in as though it belongs.
The God of entirety arrives.


IV. By Any Other Name

You know how it is,
a people brought so high
by the empanelled opportunity of towers
may come to a knowledge of falling,
may fall by shifts.
Become invisible to us,
like the firmament at dawn,
their lives touch ground.
September is named again. A people
comes to the knowledge of its name again.

Let us speak of the sourcing of souls.
We live in a country still in its Tocqueville surmise,
never old enough, and always new.
We live in a place where deep believers
and those of moderate faith,
and those of not much faith at all
pursue the true and what is beautiful.
We owe ourselves the presumption of innocence.

Above the irregular, partial sprawl of cities at night
we see a people who understand the use of tiny lights.
Here Denver perches on the knuckles of the Rockies,
here Dallas rises like a glass salute.

Out of an inland sea Chicago rises
like a seat of phosphorescent dreams.
Over Washington we see the monumental
inclines of the builder's fathmic art.

The gift of the dead
is to hallow the living their lives.
Landing tonight we see
Manhattan glow with extra beauty.
In the grip of a great story slowly told
it becomes endlessly vivid, becomes
the dreaming thing it is to be alive.

John Barr/From The Hundred Fathom Curve

Manhattan Morning (9/11) Read More »

Veterans Day image for Veterans Day poem by John Barr


I come with my sons to this Memorial's
black vectors, pointed with 50,000 names.

Vets–their camouflage fatigues
like faded Christmas decorations–
patrol aimlessly.
Unable to let go of the intensity,
they reminisce or stand silent at the Wailing Wall.

Letters on a clear black field call roll.
They touch them.
They spend a long time reading.

John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve

VETERANS DAY, 1985 Read More »

Centennial Suite by John Bar image

The First Pageant, 1915 (Christmas)

The white snows fall into the quiet town.
Families from all directions gather in a field.
Lully Lullay, thou tiny little child.
From Midland to the Hill there is no other sound.

They do not hear the European air
fill with shrapnel, they do not see–the dead of the Great War
more than all the dead that ever were–
how nations, like trees in a fellowship of fire,
burst one from another into flame. They do not see
the coming unsettlements of the century:
the protocols of speakeasies, the Crash of '29,
Freud and Marx and Darwin come and all but Darwin
gone. Stalin, Mao and America come
and all but America gone. And then the Bomb.
Our citizens sit in their rooms at night alone,
each tending a porthole of kept light: On pillars of fire
our spacemen rise into a stillness near the moon.

TIME tells the Christmas bell from fosse to fen.
TOWN tells the next from hill to glen.
COME bells the third, to Bethlehem again.
In an emerging peal, fierce carillon,
the great bronzing of the Summon Bell,
the baritone behesting of the Jesus Bell,
the smalling of the Justice Goad: ALL WELL,
they claim, GOOD WILL. And TOWN, TIME, DONE.

John Barr / from this Archive, Holidays & Special Days

The First Pageant, 1915 (Christmas) Read More »

The Last Cosmonaut image

The Last Cosmonaut (Christmas)


When Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev finally gets back down to Earth next
month – after spending seven months longer than he’d planned in space –
he may well want to crawl back into his spacecraft.

He took off May 18 from the Soviet Union’s sprawling Baikonur
Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Twelve days before he was scheduled to return
came the coup that set in motion the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The space program got caught in the ensuing political turmoil. Once-lavish
funds were withheld. Mr. Krikalev, whose flight was the subject of a page-
one Wall Street Journal article, was pressured to stay up longer to save money
on transport cost.

The country he blasted off from doesn’t exist anymore. His hometown,
Leningrad, has a new name. Space engineers are threatening to strike. Even
the agency that sent him into space has been broken up.

The Wall Street Journal
10 February 1992

The Cosmonaut is alone. On earth it is Christmas Eve.

is anybody there?” Into my can-on-a-string
I whisper, “This will be my last report.
It will be like a brilliant sermon in an empty church.

“On earth you wake and the name of the world is Christmas.
Up here at my porthole I can but study
the sun like a dime-sized portion of the sky;
like a stone oven in its calm, sad roil of heat.
Up here the moon shows a face like a slice of chaos.
The way to know the world is not from 200 miles.

“Astronauts embark on spiritual voyages,
they fly to see meteorites directly puffing
on the moon, they land on its ulcerated face.
They pose, in the irradiated stillness, for
the “Standin’-on-the-ladder, Lookin’-at-the-stars" shot.
The mirrored bowls of their helmets do not show
their wide, regarding smiles. Under the whelm of the view
they become religionists. In the reduce
of gravity they jump like toxic kangaroos.
They unwrap themselves to lunar dust and they don’t care.
But the way to know the world is not from 200,000 miles.

“As the gravity of earth is so strong we fly to it,
so this need to engage life in some primary way.
Finally the human fascination is with each other.
This is why we mourn each other when we die.
Why finally what remains is respect, for ourselves and others.
Myself, I grow vacant before the miracle,
I grow silent before the sovereignty within.

“And I will choose the ride that only I can make.
I choose return, the deep return to earth,
to me the altogether beautiful.
Like the giant clam I’ve only got one move
but it’s a good one. I will push the joystick forward.
In this, the acceptable year of our Lord,
I will do the Christmas override.
I will be the promise of Christmas come.

“As the tip of the plow catches the shroud of sod
and begins its work, so this pod
will homestead earth’s freemantle air.
As an elevator in its infinite wisdom
shuts its doors and drops, so this capsule
will plummet and will scare the damn out of me entire.
As an oven you open to an ebullience of heat
so this capsule like a flame-chosen steak,
like a hamburger on a grill, will knit with heat.
Till words won’t hold the weight of it this pod,
with me within, will break into flame like a final poem.

“And it may be, on the flaxen slab of Arabia,
a shepherd will point with his crook and cry The Star! From

“And it may be, a mendicant in European woods
will look up from his mumble of misericord
and whisper Christ! Comes the child on his ridden ray!

“And it may be a rabbi by the Red Sea’s birth canal
will ask Shapely Spirit, is it you? The one foretold?

“And it may be, all over America, children looking
for Santa sign, checking the roof for reindeer scat,
will shout He’s here! The fat man with our toys!

“It may be the capsule will come down as fully deployed
and ineffective as a shredded parachute.
Like a fire hose unheld by firemen, like a bird
with four wings, trying to fly. It may come crashing
like a load of angle iron from the sky,
like a shower of insupportable debris,
to cartwheel in a cornfield, the nose cone
70 miles away. And I may come down,
all beef and brains, looking like where the sauce
hit the spaghetti. I will be dead and then some.

Or  it may be I will plane as much as I plummet,
soar as much as I sink. In a long day’s journey
into Horse Sense, into Public Transportation
I will contrail the world at seven altitudes.
Descending in a flattening urgency,
executing long slow dodges to starboard, to port
I will brody the broad reaches of thunderhead,
I will thunder storm. Behind the capsule window,
the wind of Doolittle: strong enough to unsteady
a mountain, the drama of descending in snow.
At a thousand unrescued feet the Krumfpod Landing System
will deploy: Down scream the wheels, the flaps and the mud flaps.
As landing is a reach for stability in a moment
of instability, I will give the oops, followed by impact.
A snuff of smoke from the tires as it touches down,
and the capsule will hold the road so pretty-good,
will roll to a stop on a snowy interstate.
A bring as the screws unseat from the flux of the nuts,
and I will emerge from my lunar cocoon.

“Under an earthbound moon a farmhouse, far
afield, twinkles with lights of its own.

“I begin to hum the angle-iron blues.
I begin to walk in parliamentary shoes.
In the gigantic East I can just discern
the imminence of the radiance to come."

John Barr / from Opcit at Large

The Last Cosmonaut (Christmas) Read More »