Veterans Day image for Veterans Day poem by John Barr

VETERANS DAY, 1985

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
First Freeze illustration of two owls dressed in overcoats

First Freeze

For ice like this,
tuned to the whisk
of a skater's waltz,

a sudden freeze–
single degrees,
not a breath of breeze–

the kind of cold
the turtles heard
last fall, calling in
the late sweet sun

Come in
Come down
Return

John Barr/from The Hundred Fathom Curve:  New & Collected Poems
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, 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 Last Cosmonaut image

Conclusion of The Last Cosmonaut (Christmas)

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.

John Barr / from Opcit at Large

WISTERIA

Wisteria

"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."


John Barr / from The Hundred Fathom Curve:  New and Collected Poems

photo of plant monstera photo

Monstera

I know it's in the nature of wonder not to last,
but wonder now at your tactile vigilance,
the quality of attention in this new leaf–
how, learning of light, it unfolds and contorts
in the slow acrobatics of your kind.

I am impressed by your tolerance for neglect.
Latitudes removed from your Latin roots.
you're spared the hazards of the rainforest
if not the usual affronts to household plants–
overwatered or, worse, left waterless.

You're old enough to have followed the neighbor boys
to war and back, but unlike them you self-renew
and never know old age. Had Ponce de León,
when he lay down to die, only known
Eternal Youth bloomed just above his head!

Given modicums of soil, water, air,
new meristems will never cease to grow–
and death for you need never come.
In a world without end you can arabesque,
flourish forever as a species of one.

Which makes my duties for your sustenance
less the chore of an inconstant gardener
than of a monk bringing to the temple
quantities of driest sandalwood
that the fire of fires may never die.

By John Barr/from Dante in China

Oyster House by John Barr

Oyster House

Blue Point, Skookum, Kumamoto–
Malpeque!

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 murex
lift secretion to an art form,
if not for immortality?

John Barr / from Dante in China

Bonsai Master

The trick is not to neglect it just enough
but to deny it just enough.
Decades of managing the stresses
of survival–the exacting balance
of staying alive but only just;
the importance of suffering
to the sublime, against
the inevitable grounds for remorse.

John Barr / from Dante in China

Volcano pic for MAPPING THE INTERIOR by John Barr

Mapping The Interior

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.

_____________________________________________

Eyjafjallajökull: AY-uh-fyat-luk-YOE-kuutl-uh

John Barr / from Dante in China

Match.com poem by John Barr

Match.com

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 

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