By John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve: New and Collected Poems
By John Barr / from Dante in China
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 conch
lift secretion to an art form,
if not for immortality?
By John Barr / from Dante in China
U.S. professor disappears during Japan valcano hike.
–CNN World, April 30, 2009
Volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
–CNN Report, April 26, 2010
In April, Craig Arnold entered the volcano.
"Every day poets try to lose control
(I can hear him say although I never met him)
"in a productive way. The earth we know,
the one we don't: Poetry happens
when it can get its footing properly on neither.
"It's the manic in geology that interests me.
Not the Major Oils whose business is to
find and exploit transsexual oil and gas reserves.
We poets undermine the situate.
It's when energy is nearly not contained–
brio under stress, brisance–
that the human spirit can be rampant.
These are the conditions for grace under pressure.
"Immense, the work, to leave behind the gentled parts,
a lone man loggering, and probe the crags
of the infrastructure skull. Phrenologist's art,
to plumb the fractal welter, enigmatic surfaces
crusted with meaning, and enter the informed
enormity of fastnesses, deeps.
To stay the course–temperature rising toward Absolute Jesus–
down to the anatectic charge in the embers,
burnt chemical flowers of igneous on the boil,
the matter of tomorrow's fire.
A poet's visit, I can tell you, is something strange,
like deputizing the face of chaos."
April to April he traveled through the earth
exiting the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull.
"Living or dead we add no weight to the dead weight
of a trundling planet. Our spark weighs naught as a neutrino
but is the imperiled particle of Original Resolve."
2012: a record year for solar storms.
Craig has his eye on those as well,
the hydrogen fire, bright button of awarded sun.
By John Barr / from Opcit at Large
As the tip of a 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
in a plummet will scare the damn out of me entire.
As an oven you open to an ebullience of heat will test
the limits of temperature's ability to affect us,
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,
Ibn 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 Bethlehem!
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 Opcit may come down,
all beef and brains, looking like where the sauce
hit the spaghetti. He will be dead and then some.
Or it may be he will plane as much as he plummets,
soar as much as he sinks. In a long day's journey
into Horse Sense, into Public Transportation
he will contrail the world at seven altitudes.
Descending in a flattening urgency,
executing long slow dodges to starboard, to port
he will brody the broad reaches of thunderhead,
he 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, he 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 Opcit will emerge from his lunar cocoon.
Under an earthbound moon a farmhouse, far
afield, twinkles with lights of its own.
He begins to hum the angle-iron blues.
He begins to walk in parliamentary shoes.
In the gigantic East he can just discern
the imminence of the radiance to come.
By John Barr / from this Archive, Holidays & Special Days
The white snows of winter 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.
By John Barr / from Dante in China
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.
By John Barr / from this Archive, What it Means to be Human
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.
By John Barr
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.
By John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve
–for Stephen Sandy
Into the last smoke blue of this day's light
the de Havilland lifts, trailing from each wing
the lights of the Capitol.
Except for the heat blur off each engine's cowl
the view is clear, out to the nebula of Lancaster,
so clear the wingtip strobes have nothing to print on.
The plane gains altitude like an extended praise.
In the cockpit richly blue gauges
keep track of our relationships to earth.
Having succeeded in leaving the earth
not nearly so well as the plane, this poem
discovers it is not about a plane but you.