What do you need? the Quiet Man asked
when I knocked again at his door.

What do you want?
He was closing up.

I don’t know, I said.
Woolf, Anbesol, Baldwin, Keats,

I’ll take anything.
I knew sometimes he slept right there in his shop,

with blankets on the bottom shelf,
history above, Bulletin

of the Atomic Scientists to the left.
Papers littered his desk

and the floor where we lay our heads,
letting the pure products of the shapely mind

inform the equally combustible body.
Who is it who says the closer you are

to an irreversible apocalypse the more fragile
language is?

We slid the dictionaries from the shelves
and opened them to apocalypse,

the word on everyone’s lips.
O lips!—

As if we could ever bid these joys farewell.

More by Catherine Barnett

Living Room Altar

Except for the shirt pulled from the ocean,
except for her hands, which keep folding the shirt, 
except for her body, which once held their bodies, 

my sister wants everything back now--

If there were a god who could out of empty shells
carried by waves to shore
make amends--

If the ocean saved in a jar
could keep from turning to salt--

She's hearing things:

bird calling to bird,
cat outside the door,
thorn of the blackberry against the trellis.

Providence

This evening I shared a cab with a priest
who said it was a fine day to ride cross town

with a writer. But I can't
finish the play I said,

it's full of snow.
The jaywalkers

walked slowly, a cigarette warmed
someone's hand.

Some of the best sermons
don't have endings, he said

while the tires rotated unceasingly
beneath us.

All over town people were waiting
and doubleparked and

making love and waiting.
The temperature dropped

until the shiverers zipped their jackets
and all manner of things started up again.

Sweet Double, Talk-Talk [iv.]

iv.

I know agape means both dumbly
open and love not the kind of love
that climbed the stairs to you.