The Creative Drive

A recent study found that poems increased 
the sale price of a home by close to $9,000. 
The years, however, have not been kind to poems. 

The Northeast has lost millions of poems, 
reducing the canopy. Just a few days ago, 
high winds knocked a poem onto a power line 

a few blocks from my house. 
I had not expected to lose so many at once. 
"We've created a system that is not healthy 

for poems," said someone. Over the next thirty years, 
there won't be any poems where there are overhead wires.
Some poems may stay as a nuisance, 

as a gorgeous marker of time.

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.

Related Poems

Duplex

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

               Memory makes demands darker than my own:
               My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

              Steadfast and awful, my tall father
              Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

              Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
              No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

Ars Poetica #1,002: Rally

I dreamed a pronouncement
about poetry and peace.

“People are violent,”
I said through the megaphone

on the quintessentially
frigid Saturday

to the rabble stretching
all the way up First.

“People do violence
unto each other

and unto the earth
and unto its creatures.

Poetry,” I shouted, “Poetry,”
I screamed, “Poetry

changes none of that
by what it says

or how it says, none.
But a poem is a living thing

made by living creatures
(live voice in a small box)

and as life
it is all that can stand

up to violence.”
I put down the megaphone.

The first clap I heard
was my father’s,

then another, then more,
wishing for the same thing

in different vestments.
I never thought, why me?

I had spoken a truth
offered up by ancestral dreams

and my father understood
my declaration

as I understood the mighty man
still caught in the vapor

between this world and that
when he said, “The true intellectual

speaks truth to power.”
If I understand my father

as artist, I am free,
said my friend, of the acts

of her difficult father.
So often it comes down

to the father, his showbiz,
while the mother’s hand

shapes us, beckons us
to ethics, slaps our faces

when we err, soothes
the sting, smoothes the earth

we trample daily, in light
and in dreams. Rally

all your strength, rally
what mother and father

together have made:
us on this planet,

erecting, destroying.

The Secrets of Poetry

Very long ago when the exquisite celadon bowl
that was the mikado's favorite cup got broken,
no one in Japan had the skill and courage
to mend it. So the pieces were taken back
to China with a plea to the emperor
that it be repaired. When the bowl returned, 
it was held together with heavy iron staples.
The letter with it said they could not make it
more perfect. Which turned out to be true.