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John Barton

John Barton was born in Edmonton, Canada. He attended the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Quebec, and Victoria, and Columbia University in New York. He has published eleven poetry collections, including Polari (Ice House Poetry, 2014) and For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems (Nightwood, 2012), and co-edited Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay-Male Poets (Arsenal Pulp, 2007). He is the recipient of three Archibald Lampman Awards, the Patricia Hackett Prize, an Ottawa Book Award, a National Magazine Award, and a CBC Literary Award. He served as the editor of The Malahat Review for fourteen years and now works as a freelance editor and writer. He was elected the City of Victoria's fifth Poet Laureate in 2019.  


By This Poet


Sunrise, Grand Canyon

We stand on the edge, the fall
into depth, the ascent

of light revelatory, the canyon walls moving
up out of

shadow, lit
colours of the layers cutting

down through darkness, sunrise as it 
passes a

precipitate of the river, its burnt tangerine 
flare brief, jagged

bleeding above the far rim for a split
second I have imagined

you here with me, watching day's onslaught 
standing in your bones--they seem

implied in the record almost
by chance--fossil remains held

in abundance in the walls, exposed 
by freeze and thaw, beautiful like a theory

stating who we are
is carried forward by the X

chromosome down the matrilineal line 
recessive and riverine, you like

me aberrant and bittersweet, and losing 
your hair just when we have begun

to know the limits of beauty, you so 
distant from me now but at ease

in a chair in your kitchen, pensive, mind 
wandering away from yesterday's Times, the ink

rubbing off on your hands, dermatoglyphic 
and telltale, but unread

on the chair arms after you
had pushed yourself to your feet such

awhile ago, I'd say, for here I am 
three hours behind you, riding the high

Colorado Plateau as the opposing 
continental plates force it over

a mile upward without buckling, smooth 
tensed, muscular fundament, your bones yet

to be wrapped around mine--
this will come later, when I return

to your place and time, I know it, you not 
ready for past or future, our combined

bones so inconsequent yet
personal, the geo

logic cross
section of the canyon dropping

from where I stand, hundreds
millions of shades of terra cotta, of copper

manganese and rust, the many varieties of stone--
silt, sand, and slate, even "green

river rock," a rough misidentified
fragment of it once unknowingly

dropped when I was a boy into my as of yet un 
settled sediments by a man who tried

to explain how slowly the Earth meta 
morphosed from my meagre

Wolf Cub's collection of rocks, his sheer 
casual physicality enough to negate

all received wisdom, my body voicing its immense 
genetic imperatives, human

geology falling away
into a

depth I am still unprepared for
the canyon cutting down to

the great unconformity, a layer
so named by the lack

of any fossil evidence to hypothesize
about and date such

a remote time by, at last no possible 
retrospective certainties, what a

relief, your face illegible
these words when I began not what I had

intended to say--something new about 
the natural dynamic between

earth and history, beauty and art--
but you are my subject, unavoidable

and volatile, the canyon
floor a mile from where I objectively

stand taking photos I will later develop of 
the ripe, trans

formative light on these surreal
buttes to show you on the surface

how beautiful and diverse
and unimportant our time together

or with anyone else
really is--