- by Linn Barnes
Poems from April and May, 2019
While a dabble of so-called truth
about maybe not much,
but still more than less,
and that’s not easy,
may always seem
the sadder truth is
that it is not anywhere near
as shocking as someone
posturing as an apostle of a
about most anything,
clinging doggedly to
something our simple
notion of truth continues to show
to be a lie, and, what’s worse,
an evident peril for us all.
This becomes the moment
the bells must be rung loudly
all through the land.
The thing about what matters is simple:
It has to matter. What doesn't, doesn't count,
and is best left to fools and parasites,
you know, the familiars of everyday life,
we shudder to hear, and ought to have
the good sense to ignore, no matter the volume.
The moment is upon us to cast off
the detritus that has managed to surface
in our national life, which, if taken seriously,
pretends to be a threat, but is really only tiresome.
Pay no attention to fools and trash,
they will not follow you, if you don't let them....
For you are too goddamned strong.
Pour Tous Les Morts
I’m up before light with the mist
rain on the way, spitting now,
to drape heavily the coming day
with gloomy heavy shards and sheets.
Still dark when I go to the studio,
buried in sagging green on the hillside.
I go out on the woodland deck
and breath deeply the dense wet air.
The light is struggling hopelessly
to bring some form to the gloom,
the river rattling over the rocks below
a forlorn fantasia in no time at all.
I tune the nylon string guitar,
and begin to play with bare flesh,
not with the usual brass finger picks,
whispering over empty scales and arpeggios.
I’m in standard tuning, home for the guitar,
first time in a long while I’ve left lute tuning;
I’m quietly, firmly, almost uncannily drawn into a deep
communion and melancholic semi trance with:
E minor, the saddest key, the closest key
on the guitar to a wide open and desperate chord,
the first three strings ringing siren-like as high drones,
fingers boring into the forlorn scale over three bases.
I am all but swimming with the dark bases
the guitar wet, heavy, now weeping,
finally grinding into the mist and dim light
the only possible music for now from long, long ago:
The impossible and perfect anthem by Gary Davis:
Death don’t have no mercy in this land.
I have just heard of
the death of an old friend.
With this new and sad knowledge,
now in overdrive, I plan nothing,
and there are no plans for me,
only the cosmos wielding on,
where only change is constant,
and that constant a sad whimsy,
where nothing is proffered,
and where we finally must stand alone.
Farewell, old friend. We are less without you.
There was a time long ago, innocent
at some soda fountain somewhere,
among the many lost shades of those days,
when you may have felt a pure breath of air,
the whimsicality of a brief moment bathed in
ice cream and coke, when you were sure
things were on track and time was on your side,
when the music wailed, cried, moaned and died
beneath the glimmering icy mirrored walls.
The afternoon was rapidly heating up
the air thick with humidity
when the wind began to trickle in
out of the northwest,
and then, after a wink and a nod,
to blow, blow hard,
bending the newly leafed out trees,
filling spinnakers of green with
flashing brown exploded rigging
waving before the mountain gale,
the rain slamming, hard, sideways,
riding the chariots of blasting wind
straight at and through us, huddled
behind closed windows and doors,
when the lightening filled the sky
and knifed into the land
followed by volley after volley of
Then, it all passed, blew off to the south.
We never even lost power.
But, this is Virginia, in the mountains,
not the vast flats further west,
where it must seem the walls
of creation are collapsing
millions of lives shattered,
where whole towns are crushed
beneath the tornado’s wholesale reaping
in the wink of a terrified bloodshot eye.
For the Win
The thing about surviving a left hook is the guard,
same with a right cross and, sure, an uppercut,
you just plain got to dance away from them;
but there’s really nothing quite like a clean block
from a reckless punch, followed by
a straight shot to the center of the show,
that brings the game crashing on home,
focuses the attention of the shouting hungry mob,
drunk and screaming as they usually are,
for the the coming blood spattered
crunch, pain and blinding savagery
about to be executed on the tottering combatant
before the referee can step in and call a merciful halt;
but, you know, sometimes they don’t bother,
while the howls, shouts and grunts
thumbs-down the hapless victim,
now blinded and crippled in a mist of agony,
blood and tears, who crumbles in a limp heap
to the sad soaked canvas,
his last and only chance to survive,
while the rising screams and warped rage
of the blood-lusted mob bring to focus
the horror we have grown to abide
and, it appears, will not stand to lose.
While it may seem like
the continued abuse of each day
must cripple the wounded heart,
and the illusion of nothing left to say
holds open the festering wounds
of hopelessness and decay,
it is just plain not so.
Rather, we are fully fueled,
lean, starving for the fray,
all hands on deck for the
dawning of the new day.
Today, with the heat of the afternoon,
when the wind blew up a notch or two,
a dying tree, I guess long ready,
snapped and crashed in the forest
surrounding the woodland cottage
with the profound percussion of a
high powered rifle fired down below by the river,
a percussive crack, sudden, sharp and ringing,
then a creaking fall to the greenwood floor,
smashing down with impossible weight and energy,
smothering hundreds of lives in its path,
lives about which we will now know nothing,
although we certainly never would have anyway.
The Eyes Have It
With open media-shocked eyes we witness
a glorious experiment founded by bold men
founder, gurgle and sputter in the ugly dust
of bald faced lies and criminal corruption,
heaped high to the failing gunnels of credibility,
where we now seem unable to calm a growing storm
rising higher with the turning of each new day,
vaguely flashing after the fading of yet another sad night,
where the grim fantasies of madmen have prevailed,
where the clear, clean and forgiving dawn has buckled
and begins to recede to the realm of lost hope and myth,
a severed tendon vanishing into a quivering muscle,
very hard to find, even harder to retrieve.
All is whirl, said dark Heraclitus:
there is nothing, nothing but change,
even the bright stars careen,
grinding out the threads of ancient overtures,
vanishing to no more than a heavy back beat,
but, if you fire the imagination and
lean in a little, you can’t miss it,
all of which, among the impermanence,
within which we navigate,
speaks loudly the simple truth:
We are the stuff of motion,
bouncing in our time
to and fro, this way and that,
affirming and celebrating,
if we choose to be clever,
if we are close watchers,
the fabric and glory of our being.
If this is as much so, as it seems,
why then are we so damnably
challenged by the sad imposition of faith
into the realm of enlightened contemplation,
where, as lovely as it may seem to be,
it still has no reasonable and proper place,
and serves only to darken our days
and diminish the special glory of our lives,
where dance will out if given the chance.
There is much deadly dancing afoot,
where the peacock throne is no more,
whirling beyond the flash of heel and toe,
driven by clashing out of tune symbols,
drums courting, counting dull cadence,
the maddened blood driven beyond
what dimmed witted pressure will allow,
drawing heavy, grim and fatal bows
to the swollen cheeks of bloodlust and greed,
ready to loose a vast mist of deadly shafts
once again onto the cradle of Persian dreams,
where we failed before and now will fail again,
our corrupt and false leader lashed to a flaming chariot,
charging into the gaping jaws of his dying days.
Staying in Time
Beyond the layout, the clamor for more
than proof in the burned out pudding,
there lies the quantum truth
floating in the random mist
of mis-spent shots in an unholy night
where nothing is really actual,
and lies are as real as others,
where the worst swim with all,
and all swim alone, a random soup
of guesses and glimmers,
where light collides with the dark
and gathers strength from another
far brighter and darker shadow.
It is here that we trespass, dance upon
the delicate gathering of our hours,
until we are sure shocked and finally stand,
bolt straight to the lies and corruption,
shout out the truth until, nearing exhaustion,
we must lay down, and, mercifully, rest.
But now, it is clear, is not that time.
The mother of us all
is the mother of each of us;
this is the story that binds,
the story that bears
the fruit we can all believe,
in the face of improbability,
no matter the cost,
when we are left, finally,
with our glorious memories
and our undying love.
A storm is flooding the rancid wells
where there’s been nothing,
nothing but a sandy death invading
the gaging nostrils
of the soon to perish;
where the light, bent to a horrible angle,
offers no repose,
no shelter from the wind, the rain,
and the grim tidings of the end;
where the walking, stumbling, crippled
crawl onto the slack jawed public stage
and are stoned to dust and vanish
into the wilderness they have worshipped,
where the rulers play the usual sad game,
and once again conquer the hearts of a few,
but this time, no where near most.
Ancient dragons are swarming the land,
charring the hearts and chilling the minds,
wielding sharp swords, spitting murderous flames,
collapsing the thin canopy where none can hope to hide,
forcing all into the open where battle must rage,
where sky is caving beneath shotgun blasts of lies,
where shields are melting before murderous rain
drenching mud pits where huddle the abandoned,
weary souls in the grip of the darkest of nights,
waiting for the holy warriors of a prophesied dawn.
The earth has spun once more to Beltane.
All is green, wet and luscious in the meadows and fields,
the woods riot with the glamour of May, leafing out to the watcher.
Tonight, somewhere, everywhere, actual, virtual,
the towering fires will be kindled and lit,
dancing and song will stamp out the cold,
warm hungry hearts and feed starving souls.
Bells will ring out and drums will be struck,
the harp and the lute will shimmer ancient tunes
and an aching maligned world will once again weep
for the ripeness of pure, innocent passion on this,
our perfect day.
The guitar, our national instrument, how does it work?
A really big but good question.
To strike the string, sings the body of the guitar.
To fret and strike the string, shortens the string
and sings again the body, only higher.
To fret twice, then more, creates a special form of language
that we have come to call music.
This is the art of the guitar.
What we ‘do’ is engender a sonic vapor,
gilding lightly over a brief moment,
which will quickly evaporate back to potentiality.
This is where the player becomes the medium,
the imagination on full alert and on fire.
Guitars, like all musical instruments,
are in the service of dreams.
April continues to be the cruelest month, as Eliot told us,
splashing gore and horror throughout the world.
You’d think we were at war. Are we?
I have taken to my instruments with a primal vengeance,
attacking the Martin 000-28 with an unexpected furor,
building power and strength in deep draughts.
I have returned, in part, to the sixteenth century for solace,
the works of Francesco da Milano and John Dowland
leaping into being, this time on the guitar, not the lute.
‘Il faux vivais dans son temps’, say the wise French,
‘You must live in your own time’, and, without regret or fear;
I revel in the guitar playing of my youth, now punctuated with my life.
The steel stringed Martin, fired by visionary technologies,
reverberates wildly, driven by invisible choruses into vast halls,
timeless cathedrals and deep caves throughout the world,
creating stunning sanctuaries of sadness, power and joy,
bridging the gap from hopelessness to shelter, and, then,
begging the poet’s permission, ‘brings it all back home’.
Joe and I are about the same age.
We probably had a few together at the
Bottle and Cork on one if those forgotten
Sundays so very long ago when Dewey
was learning to be Dewey.
Everybody who was there remembers those days,
even if you can’t quite nail ‘em down.
Innocence was in the air,
the beer was frozen to near ice,
the laughter was without fear,
the music was crazy loud
in a reckless Fender kind of way,
swooping and colliding
with our happily addled heads
‘till we finally staggered off
to barely make it to where
we were hoping to get to
with very little reason
to imagine we had even
a glimmer of a chance.
But we did, and with a shrug
we waded into Monday
somewhere, fools perhaps,
but with few regrets and
mostly without sorrow.
Once again, we raise
a happy glass to Joe.
See you on Sunday.
The Night Sky
Alone with the night sky, the other side of day,
grappling with the stars, enchanted by the murky galaxies,
which appear vanishing beyond the far terminal horizons,
where ruthlessness can never be discussed,
and time at that close range hardly ticks,
while near and very far is nothing
but speed and heat and combustion,
the fuel of being in a thing we call our time,
the one we so ignorantly and ungraciously inhabit,
with hardly a glimpse into the fog
we eternally muddle through,
calling it something like reality,
which, with one glimpse, is a joke,
and another a tragedy.
When finally wisdom began screaming for a retreat,
The long sharp blades were already out,
Slashing the fabric of anything called truth,
Skinning the ancient oracular vision along the
Perforated bent worthless rudder no longer
Guiding anything, much less the water
Flooding the gunnels beyond any bailing,
Sinking the vessel in the grim gloomy mire,
Waves washing, crashing in, then out,
Creatures of the sea both around
And among you preparing for the feast
You have so perfectly prepared for them.
After so many centuries of indolence,
Arrogance and greed did you expect
Anything like an even break, a deal?
Courting the Waters
Sometimes you must step deeply
into flowing and dangerous waters,
let them cover and take you at speed
through the perilous canyons
toward the glorious truth, without fear,
but rather with full conviction,
even a broad high grin,
knowing that at the end
that truth will be your fast friend.
It appears it has become time
to rattle off your fear and take that dive.
Spread the word,
no life jackets allowed.
I have been stranded upon many sad shores,
cast up by the seas of despair,
to lie desolately coiled in fear,
waiting for some hope, mostly impossible to imagine;
and then, it somehow crunches through.
And now, again in this drifting moment,
with the odds casting far to the dark side,
Do I err with hope, when the seas seem clearing?
The portrait of brothers and sisters chanting
for the re-birth of the lost power of antiquity,
the flames having savaged the world,
ringing in a powerful major scale the
indomitability of the world in rebound.