Catherine Barnett (born May 17, 1960) is an American poet and educator.
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
We slid the dictionaries from the shelves
and opened them to apocalypse,
the word on everyone’s lips.
As if we could ever bid these joys farewell.
We didn’t believe an elephant could squeeze into church
so we went to church and waited while the priest
kept saying listen and forgive and the animals all around us
listened, or didn’t listen, some strained against leashes,
some wore disguises that made them look like people we knew,
people we should forgive or be forgiven by,
we didn’t know which, even the elephant
looked like someone we knew, flooding the doorway
like a curtain of light, swaying from side to side.
Her hide was cracked down to her feet and her eyes,
they shone like glass before it breaks. She looked
like she might fly but only walked down the aisle
in a dirty gown of wrinkles, so wrinkled and slow
and vast and silvery, the whole galaxy shivering.
Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle,
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate,
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing.
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love.
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare,
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.
My son took a picture of me
jumping the cemetery wall. Do it again,
he said, as if I’d got out too fast.
Pretend you’re really climbing.
In the retake my lazy eye is half shut,
and the other is smiling or crying.