from The Work

Christian Barter

            I had this clearish vision of what to write:
            a portrait of a year, a love affair
            caught pivoting towards serious, and right
            at mid-life’s pivot, that ten-mile stare,
            my own decline and fall co-terminant
            with country’s and, perhaps, us all,
            as though the universe had heard me bawl
            and said, “I’ll give you something to cry about!”
            No small pickins for a poem of complaint.
            And yet it never has come truly clear,
            the vision, muddy as the life which yet
            may grant me one more useful metaphor
            at the expense of that which could confer it:
            if all this goes unread, it will be perfect.

So if you’re somewhere out there, passed out on the floor:
Oh, Joey, I’m not angry any more.

—Concrete Blonde


I have no problem any more with this small town.
I’ve stopped worrying if my neighbors wave—
though sometimes they do—and at forty-eight
I figure the friendships that didn’t take
when we had time to waste on them won’t now
and don’t take too long at Hannaford’s getting the low-down
on which vanished mutual companion
is climbing in Utah or dating an old ex.
For we are all old exes here,
our pearls built on the grit of one another.
It’s easy now to pull the brie right under
the nose of some ex-buddy who came by early
every night one winter to throw darts
and drink, and build up nacre for the bars.


I’m telling you this, Mariah, because you may
at some point come up here to live with me.
I don’t care any more about misdirection,
or lit-theory breakdowns of the unintentional.
My last long work of fragmented voices
pollutes back shelves of independent bookstores
everywhere, unread as Dickinson.
I’ve made my peace with that small-town shoulder,
or just using others’ words if they work better.
Oh Joey, I’m not angry any more,
as Concrete Blond once belted in high style,
and we, as though we’d scored it, sang right with her.
For we are all old exes here, my love,
and, even in theory, have one life to live.


Though lately I can’t seem to see the sky
the snow, the stream on Norway Drive, the tree
across the road, all thrust and knotty elbow
that once backgrounded all my verse like Fuji;
all I see are phone poles, the backyard trash
of distant interstates cutting the next ridge,
and the actual backyard trash—tipped car, old fridge,
bags piled for the truck like someone’s iPhone
ringing in the adagio, the mass,
the speech where Kennedy says we must go to the moon;
I keep seeing the charts, the line since carbon fuel
jumping up like a Superball that’s hit a stone—
always cut off at now like an intervention,
caesura, skyline, freak assassination. 


I’m going to try to write something anyway,
writing and inspiration often acting
as opposite strides, the light too bright
at the moment of seeing to see your way through
the dank passages—like love and passion,
which rarely operate in concert; or exertion
and strength, which every lifter knows go back
and forth, one laying track for the other
to glide on, as though under its own power,
days later.  Nothing is under its own power.
All that’s worth saying comes in a kind of dream:
a name coming after you’ve given up trying,
or you, when I’d become okay with being alone,
leaning forward, saying, “Mariah.”

Christian Barter works at Acadia National Park as a stone worker, rigger, arborist and trail crew supervisor. He has won a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton, and The Maine Literary Award. Recent poetry has appeared in Tin House, NewLetters and on His latest book is Bye-bye Land from BOA Editions.

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