Thursday Nov 30

BarrTina Tina Barr’s five volumes of poetry include Kaleidoscope (available at Iris Press), The Gathering Eye (Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize), and three chapbooks, all winners of national chapbook competitions. Her fellowships include the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The MacDowell Colony & Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She co-edits The Shining Rock Poetry Anthology & Book Review.


The Sower                                                                                          

First the cabbages—
their bowls hold soups of sunlight,
then frilled nets of asparagus fronds,
after tiny pencils came up,
small as birthday cake candles.
Carrots made their nifty orange
sticks and I found them, compounded,
tight as bulbs and ate them
right out of the ground.

Vegetables appear stubborn,
gorged on earth, refuse to give up.
Resting there in the dark, they pull
minerals. Red onions bulge, invisible,
as above, on long stalks, round balls
break spurts of white blossom.  
Bent, trampled, your insides sieved,
like wilted cucumber plants you’ll
come back, surrounded in yellow flowers.

Letty gives Haywood work, groceries,
sometimes rent; he can’t keep a job,
tangled as he is inside himself.
Who can stand him working in their houses—
endless talk as he strokes paint on walls.
Someone brought Haywood a turkey,
fixings at Thanksgiving.
And do I care, really? I think:
“One reaps what one sows.”

But Haywood’s brother, retarded,
ate the parents’ attention,
no matter how many snakes
they handled, how deftly quoted
the passages, the sister, also, spun
in fetal alcohol. As a kid,
Haywood camped by the river, fished.
He’ll hang a light fixture crooked as
broken teeth and now he knows me, argues.                                                                                    

Van Gogh’s sky, green as a cabbage’s
center, thickens behind a dark figure;
the bent tree blackens.
A huge yellow sun shadows the tree,                                                                                           
the sower, as he turns his body, opens his fist
over the row. Grass seed is light;
I can lift a whole bag, and it spun its green
candy like cotton in the sandy
clay of the cutbank, miraculous, its pitch of color.

Here Be Dragons                                                                   

Her neck balloons, accordions so if I heft
her up her beak will snap a finger off.
She drags six inches of tail, her shell
twelve inches, aft end cut as if by pinking
shears, domed plate dark as tar.

In the good wars they painted women’s
backs with tar, inner burns permanent;
adorned with feathers they would never
recover. Vichy was water you could not
drink. Or in Dublin sleep with a Brit.

Territory I get. Someone I know saws
at the neck of a rabbit, drips its blood
to mark the edge of his garden. I’ll spray
Spinosad on my tomatoes to dissolve
green hornworms straddling stalks.

Their backs are quilled with white rice:
larvae of Braconid wasps already feasting. Clever
to make the caterpillar carry its destroyer.
The hornworm’s heart’s still intact; in a
week larvae hatch through a hole in its skin.

Invisible to us, worms feed inside our intestines.
Metaphors spread their wings like swallow
tails on the pink castles of phlox blossoms.
We live in those castles, bury our heads,
drink their sweet Lethe to forget:

a husband’s dementia, its white spaces between
the brain’s rooms, cancer. Even cutaneous horns,
curved as a tomato worm’s tail spike, can emerge
from a cheek, or take the tree man. His horn
warts looked like roots grown over his feet.

Something has fed on my friend’s heart; she can’t
feel with it. Like workers who tossed bodies
onto carts, limbs white in the ghetto footage,
thin as my wrist, their hip bones like shells,
ribs visible, a tumble of praying mantises in a grave.

The turtle’s belly shell I bought in Chengdu
is a shaman’s instrument, incised with
hieroglyphs: tiny arrows, cradle shapes, stick
figures. A translation came with it, a paper
penciled in characters off a mahjong set.

Marigolds, dill, basil will keep certain
insects away, think how they coat your hands
with smell, strong as sliced garlic or the rub
from propping up tomato. But not the copperhead
curled in its brown study, a foot away.