Two Poems by Thomas Barnes


She wrote with the point of a ten penny nail.
It wasn’t her father or even her brother who showed her,
but an uncle who’d come back to find, to visit his trees.
Those who carved with knives cut too deep. Scarring
began to blur, then obscure the marks after a few years.
Basque shepherds left behind an indelible loneliness
in signatures, in caricature, in silhouettes of sex.
By the sixties they’d gone.
Their trees lasted some decades longer.

She traced her name with her finger
to feel the run of her former hand and as she did
thought of the picture of herself in the hall,
her own jet eyes and bangs, puffy sleeves, square skirt,
and the video of their family trip to the Pyrenees,
her mother yanking her by the arm,
like a yoyo, like a pogo stick.

She found the other names,
traced then too, her father, brothers, uncles
and the old ones who used to sit at her father’s bar.
It was a long look at tombstones.
It was like touching something taboo, a tattoo.
Their European cursive, their Basquoise cried out
from the soft-skinned aspens whose lolling and creaking
lent their own dour accomplishment.
What wafts in acrid, in musty scents is heftiness of leaves,
context of shadow, the simple complexity of presence
and here beneath her hand and beneath her feet
the smell, the feel of them looking over her shoulder.


Paper Dolls

What is it about the ooze of summer weather
that glues one’s skin to the past?
Salty air on sweating shoulders,
or maybe darkening sky above Woods Hole
as the ferry breaks from dock. Just north is Hyannis,
to the south and east, what cannot yet be seen of
Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard subtle, swelling heaves.
The ones who came later weren’t any less lucky,
girls stretched fingertip to fingertip.
No scissors could ever cut them free
of each other, of the muck and the mystery.
Even before she married Jackie’d heard the rumors.
Fortitude must count for something;
she just knew she was stringer than the rest,
but in the end sunglasses and cancer,
even Ari couldn’t hide her from her destiny:
she’d always be the president’s wife.
When Norma Jean sung for his sup
she was strung out on love, she was the symbol of sex.
Before she waddled onstage they sewed her inside her dress.
Easy enough to unravel, harder to stop,
Bobby to the rescue, Bobby clean up this mess,
couldn’t help himself not to put his finger in the pie.
Who to this day makes the turn at Chappaquiddick
and doesn’t think Mary Lou. Ought to be a sign.
Teddy couldn’t keep up. Teddy ate too much.
They’ll always remember John John for the salute, but
what about the girl riding shot gun, and, her sister in the back?
Not enough time to memorize their names;
it’s remain that way to their bracken grave.
Perhaps black-eyed Daryl considers herself lucky
to break the chain? Lots of dolls got away, a few,
maybe, unscathed.

Thomas Barnes