Albert Goldbarth

                  Things I've Put in This Poem

      1. 1972

The top line is sea-level. Here, a girl dances the black flag
her hair makes in the wind, over green leas fleecy with primrose.
She is out to dig for potsherds, shells in shale, pebble veined
pied and peacock enough for rings and pendants, something
spaded up from history to shine between her breasts.
And splitting one hillock, her hands undress red earth
from around a skeleton: yellowed, at peace, a bullet
packed in red dirt where the heart was.


Long weeds of lantern-light seem to sprout
from the night soil; looking closer, through those bright cracks
splitting a farmsteader's shack in the dark of the 1870s:
one man, pallid and spread on the checkered quilt, twitches
under the flame-cleaned knife and forceps
the county doctor poises an inch above his chest.
The goal: to pry an arrow out of flesh. The advice: here,
bite on this. And the gray veins at the temple bulge
into a world without anaesthesia, from the wild try
of a dying man to chew a lead bullet in half.


(The outcome: he doesn't die. Barb out, the farmer lives,
breeds, and whistles wacky orisons in the bull manure,
thinking: when I do die, let them lower me in my grave
wearing this memento, this tooth-marked pellet of birdshot
that is all the suffering in the world.) The scene:


skin split, forceps pinching in muscle, doctor's breath
a cloud above his face, the farmer clamps his jaw
till its bone hinge warps. And in that moment
before his troubles tumble out of him into the shadowy sack
of fainting: he feels the fever go into the sweat, and leave.
The pain goes into the bullet.


So I've put some special things into this poem.
The girl whose hair is a small night sky star-specked
against eh ordinariness of my daytimes
I put in so this poem will make me think of Syl.
She is Syl. She brings a primrose home to me.
The grass and flowers are here to remember
greenery by, in the forthcoming days of its disappearance.
Let those lines symbolize chlorophyll.
The jewelry I put in to be those circles of beauty
human hands shape for human hands,
to glint against the twilight.
And the quilt, and the shells, and the lantern.

And the bullet I've put in to make this prayer real:
            All our pain, go into the bullet.
            All our pain, go into the bullet.
            And the bullet stay buried in the bottom line.

Albert Goldbarth, The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007,
Graywolf Press, 2007.