Mr. Lear

All at once my father's clothes are too big on him.
He has shrunken into himself like a deflated souffle.

Hard rind, pants bagging at the waist, teeth
ground down, hair silver, wild sand.

A pot with no lid that fits, a mousetrap tricked
and left unbaited, this old, old man.

My fury at this is appalling to me.
Who am I to question these auguries,

these owls of fortune? I cannot begin
to think what he hears in the dark:

two clocks ticking, yellow emergency radio
at the ready, wound and raring to go
whether or not the power goes out
or They drop The Bomb.

Even if it's only static over ashen fields
we'll hear it.

Near him, aslant in the moonlight
through the white net curtains

his unloaded rifle waits, patient soldier.
Nobody ever asks him who it's for.

He sleeps while the moon rises over his land.
Outside a shadow falls over stilled water.

A splash through the ice on the pond
wakes him.  He knows it's only the muskrat

or even the beaver, who has become
somewhat more than an annoyance

but he heaves himself out of bed
before the snoring has stopped

and lets the night have at him.
He pays with the coin of open eyes.

Vibration Up the Temple Wall

I am an artist of the Floating World.
I'm a thief--that's someone else's title.

Sometimes this whole place feels laminated.
Sometimes my throat closes up.

I seize my eyes against the glare
of white atomic sky, flash Korea.

From this far up, even the fountains seem still.
From this far up, even the monks have no eyes.

From this high up, I can see where a lazy worker
Has misplaced several tiles on the temple roof.

Doesn't he know God is more than a vibration?
Doesn't he know the eye of God is an unclosed bead?

I try to forget how the clouds grasp the trees like lovers.
I try to forget what yellow means, and play lonely money.

Am I mourning?  When is morning?
Nothing happens.  No-one moves.

I am the shape of shark-stopped water.
I am a peach, cleaving dark.

I am a disclaimer on a empty cigarette pack.
I am your only word, a glove with the thumb torn out.

I am the nasty tomorrow, the sharp edges of tin.
I am the smell of a demon who's just left the room.


what cliff. sere light
and cloud, fail heaven.
now is climbing, now
is boatened water,
wood speech, clogs
on stone, a pull, a kilt,
a lift, wool, a space:
false moss.

blindfold. sand trapped
as glass, portcullis.
too soon for falseness,
an eye. sail heretics!
a ruler, a notation, eclipse.
what mouth. slammed nail.

tailed bird. tailed spring,
flesh lexicon, a wrist,
blindfold. snails. broken,
dumb shell. curved suborn:
equivocator, mollusc.

Friction for False Gods

On the tarmac, in the temple.
A toad lifts its head to the sun.
Armed, disengaged, half-arc:

Where is listened, what is knit.
Why is construed, what is dust.
A shriek, a grief, close mouth.

The bell's knees knock together,
Fatal collision.  Orange robe:
A smell of misremembered thorn.

I have a god I call Almanac.
She wears a dress made of letters:
Inelegant, supposition, infringement.

I have a god I call Apostrophe.
She is sick of being sung to.
She only eats anaphora.

I have a god I call Forget-me-nor.
His throat is slit like a grimace.
I have a god I smell after it rains;

She is left without a name.
I have a calling, a winter, some gun:
Dread wish, fell prostitution.

         Elizabeth Barbato 2008