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
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
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
It was anger — the audacious theft —
that chained him to the cliff for vulture's fare.
But fire itself, Zeus knew, could be the more
poetic punishment: subvert the gift
to a burning underground — Kentucky coal seams,
the slow combustion of mass burials
stoking the decay with human fuel
in plague pits, under soccer stadiums;
make it the incinerating blooms
of Bikini, Fukushima, and Chernobyl,
the Willie Pete and Little Boy that fell
on Dresden, Hiroshima, Vietnam.
Make him the airman crouched above his sight,
aiming to illuminate the night.
John Barr/from Measure
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
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
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.