Contents | June 2003
More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.
The Atlantic Monthly | June 2003
Hear the author read this poem (in RealAudio)
by David Barber
If you've ever seen one bubble up, you don't forget
Reeking pitch, glossy sludge in heaving gouts,
Steeping muck that devours and preserves.
If in the presence of all that brooding pressure,
You were instructed to imagine the untold volumes,
You can't stop now, you still can't help but shiver.
Patient chemical ferment, opulent and desolate.
If your eyes played over it, you saw stained glass.
If you clutched the cyclone fence, your feet would squinch.
And didn't it give off a stench like everyone's garage?
And weren't you the one who dreamed your own back yard
Began to ooze sweet crude from a hidden seam?
Once you have learned it could suck a mammoth down,
Why not a home? Why not a whole sheltered childhood
Sealed away from all that flenses and bleaches?
Animal and mineral, mother of all mires.
Why turn away now? Why, you were born near there,
No more than a dire wolf's howl away. You know full well
There's not a fen can touch it when it comes
To what's forbidden, nor a bog on God's green earth
So firm with bone, and all that's bred therein.
What is there to fear? There is so much there,
If it came in drums it would last you a lifetime.
Dream on, go ahead, stick that broad brush right in:
You can make your own rank slick that simmers and stews,
You can slather it on in rich heaping glops
So that nothing escapes, not a grief, not one hurt.
If you loved how it fumed and seethed, how can you deny
It smacks of every livid urge that's in your blood?
If all the world were a glade, what would you have to forgive?
David Barber is a staff editor of the Atlantic and the author of The Spirit Level (1995), a collection of poems
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2003; Tar Pit; Volume 291, No. 5; 82.