Ken Barris, Six Poems

An artist

The skin on her knuckles, in the webbed
groin between finger and finger, is cracked
and dry. These are hands that have painted
endless images, now blurred into one; grime
of every colour stains her fingertips. Her nails,
pigment half-moons, show permanent damage.

There is copper in her laughter, unburnished,
streaked with age, but little humour. It does leak
out sometimes without warning, dribbles away
like the smoke of her strong fags. Now she studies
a painting: a winter ground of trees proudly
naked in their bark, and many dark birds.


Goat Himself

Goat stares and chews,
knowing his eyes
are the yellow of Satan.
He’s read it many times –

bored with the truth
he rams his reflection
in a farmhouse window,
shattering the glass.

In falling shards
Goat multiplies,
all jagged edge
and goblin eyes.

Goat’s Children

Goat has children,
scores of hundreds.

They’re mostly goats
but some stand upright,

horned and shaggy,

Their speech is reptile,
they fear no scruple –

only the sharp sword
and the hard Cross.

Goat’s Truth

Goat makes poetry, strumming
his lyre: an epic of monsters
with bearded jaws and porcine eyes.

Their swords will be copper, a new
bright metal. They live for battle,
their bloodthirst unquenchable.

Their speech is frightening,
garrulous and guttural.

Picturing monstrosity makes him swoon
and spill his horn of purple wine.


Isadora Duncan

What a death! Literature
would struggle to invent one
so modern. “Adieu, mes amis,”
Mari Desti records Duncan’s words,
“Je vais à la gloire!” – later
admitting it was love not glory
she was off to, “Je vais à l’amour.”

Benoît Falchetto – she names him
Buggatti – an Italian mechanic
drives the car, perhaps to her hotel
and afternoon sex. The scarf,
monstrous, handpainted, designed
to balloon in the wind, a gift
from Desti –

when she is young, 1913,
Bourdelle carves her spirit,
her motion into the portal
of a theatre, the Théâtre
des Champs-Élysées –
ballet being so ugly,
unnatural – her likeness

inside too, and in sculpture
everywhere, jewelry, poetry,
novels, photographs,
prints and painting –

wraps into the spokes
of the car, a humble Amilcar,
no Bugatti or Cord.

The New York Times is spare
in its decree, noting how the scarf
of strong silk wrapped around
the wheel and dragged
her out, “precipitating her
with violence against the cobblestone
street”… stating that, coldly
stating that “she had been
strangled and killed instantly.”

A slender body – she writes
in love to Acosta, the poet
Mercedes – hands soft and white,
for the service of my delight
two breasts round and sweet,
invite my hungry mouth to eat,
from whence two nipples firm and pink,
persuade my thirsty soul to drink,
and lower still a secret place
where I’d fain hide my loving face

“Affectations,” notes Gertrude Stein,
perhaps with hidden motive,
perhaps she loves the image
she can’t touch, too much, far
too much, “can be dangerous.”

Today her death is carved
in eternal public stone:


What we never say

I could start a poem if I wished to.
Something about the warm night air,
the rain, frogs, the exact climate.
Extend from there, the torn
social heart, missing love not
between men and women but
in more general terms: how
we miss the point and go sliding
helpless downhill, always the image
of a brighter place refreshing the idea
of what isn’t there: then a slick final
twist, dagger in the space
between semi and colon and fall
into reflective silence followed
(after a pause) by some applause.

© Ken Barris, 2009

(Thank you to Ken Barris for granting permission for Groundwork to publish the poems. Copyright remains with Ken Barris)


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