Contents | November 2003

More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.


The Atlantic Monthly | November 2003
 
Pilgrim's Progress

by David Barber
 
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audioear pictureHear the author read this poem (in RealAudio)


The fin is the finest thing of its kind.
The wing's a wonder the world over.
The tongue is a form of eternal flame.
The stone's a story that never grows old.

O fin, it's certain you want for nothing.
Yo wing, you're everything we've ever dreamed.
You said it, tongue: of arms and men you sing.
Here's looking at you, stone: a star is born.

Who doesn't burn for a soul on the wing?
Where is the man that can fine-tune the fin?
When shall we learn to read the mind of the stone?
What in the world holds its own like the tongue?

Stone says fin's the one that schooled the wing.
Story goes one singer could charm the stones.
Rock, paper, scissors: worlds without end.
One slip of the tongue makes the whole world kin.

All together now: the many in the one.
Brush fire of fins shirring the fathoms,
Cairns of lost tongues, the chorus in the wings
Riffing on the omens of the heavens.

Soul knows it can't live on breath alone.
When the tongue wags the dog, the fur's gonna fly.
The stone is a kind of recording angel.
The wing's got the beat. The fin makes waves.

Wing it, mother tongue: the world's your whetstone.
We're wired for sound. We're unfinished business.
Let's hear it for the phoenix, all fired up.
Sirens, rock us to sleep with the fishes.

Let's hear it for descent with variations.
Let him without fin go back to the grindstone.
The bat is the manta ray's soul brother.
The dolphin's glossolalia speaks volumes.

Hosannas for sea changes, the wish made flesh.
As the silkworm turns, as the chrysalis
Is my witness, leviathan's no fluke.
Blood from a stone is a thing to behold.

Blow me down with a feather, fishers of men;
Rock of ages, take me under your wing.
Muse, make it new: leave no tongue untuned.
Rock my world, winged gods: begin again.

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David Barber is a staff editor of The Atlantic and the author of The Spirit Level (1995).
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 2003; Pilgrim's Progress; Volume 292, No. 4; 88.