By John Barr/from Measure
By John Barr / from Poetry Magazine
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.
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.
by John Barr/From The Hundred Fathom Curve
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.
By John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve
I come with my sons to this Memorial's
black vectors, pointed with 50,000 names.
Vets–their camouflage fatigues
like faded Christmas decorations–
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
By John Barr/from this Archive, Holidays and Special Days
And there were shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
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
rendered them no longer visible.
Not souls–not yet–they were signifiers
ready to be metaphors.
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 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 The Hundred Fathom Curve: New and Collected Poems
"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."
By John Barr / from Dante in China