Barbara Marsh is a poet and singer-songwriter who was born in Rhode Island and now lives and teaches in London. Her first collection, To the Boneyard
, was published by Eyewear in 2013.Billboards
Six years old in the back of a blue station wagon: Holiday Inn. Esso. Walk a Mile for a Camel.
Burma-Shave. Home of Yellowstone
Up front, maps full of words.
Curvy red and blue lines
led to cities – words first, then boulevards
and buildings. Later, I’d memorise white shapes
on green rectangles: Sleepy Hollow Road, Runnell Avenue,
. Sing them like nursery rhymes
as my feet went round on the pedals. You taught me
to search for the perfect word,
was useless without U
I remember white-dotted avenues
on the table, the domino pile on the edge,
your voice singing To the boneyard
you must go
, disembodied as any ghost.
Now you say That’s a good word
repeat it. As if you’ve never heard it. Now
we drive down roads I don’t recognise. SHEENAGH:
I know you relocated a lot as a child, due to your father's navy job. How did you react to this? Some children react by not putting down such deep roots outside the family, consciously or unconsciously not getting as attached to places or friends as they otherwise might; some become hoarders of memories or get very good at maintaining relationships at a distance via letters or phone. And some become very acute, analytical observers, always comparing the now with the then, the here with elsewhere. Did this background make it easier for you to fit in when you changed countries and what impact would you say it's had on your writing? BARBARA:
That's a good question - I think I reacted well while it was happening - I knew I had no choice, so I accepted it, was the usual resilient kid - but it wasn't easy, having to settle in a new place and make new friends every couple of years. And then I often went to more than one school in those two years, if we'd arrived on the cusp - the last year in primary school, for example, so friends I'd made the previous school year I wouldn't then be in school with in the next place, if you see what I mean. I’d been in 10 schools by the time I was 14. I was definitely a bit of a hoarder - I'd save all kinds of things: matchbooks, restaurant napkins, tickets, birthday cards, the little plastic mermaids that hang on a cocktail glass (or monkeys or whatever – my dad knew I liked them and brought them home) - so many things had meaning; these were things I could hold on to, I guess, unlike the places we lived and the friends I'd left behind. I always felt insecure and clumsy (I was also always growing, always taller than everyone in my class, so I really was quite a klutz). In fact, the only times I felt secure were when I was writing or playing/performing music or acting. Normal social interactions were hard - I was so painfully self-conscious, with the insecurity complex that can travel with that. And terrified of people in authority, of men, of being myself, having my own opinions around them (I think 'Serial' touches on that a good deal). And although I always intended to stay in touch with the friends I'd left, it never happened - I'd be in touch for a short period and then stop. I don't know why - maybe I never trusted that any relationship could withstand the imposed distance. The people stayed in my memory, but I was unable to find any of them (or them to find me) for years until recently, through Facebook and Classmates.com. Many of the people I thought I’d never lose touch with I have been unable to find.
I have the geography of some of the places I lived in my bones – I dream of the houses from Hawaii, Mississippi, Virginia, Florida. I have a physical ache for some places I’ve lived. When I got older, I never expected any intimate relationship to last – and I never felt settled anywhere. In fact, it wasn't until relatively recently that I felt settled at all – we moved house last October, and had lived there – the house in Hackney – for 8 and a half years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere since I was born. It was such a wrench to leave. I think I always feel like a bit of a foreigner anyway, everywhere – because I am one! But I felt that in the US as well (I’ve been in the UK for 30 years now, nearly all my adult life) – never felt settled, in my home, in myself... I think it's all linked back to moving so much as a kid, but I felt that I was different from other Americans – like I didn't really belong there. I feel more like I belong here; though I’m not sure why, I think I always have – even with the obvious differences (and may I just say how tired I am of hearing 'You haven't lost your accent!'?). Did it make it easier to fit in? I don't think so – it was really tough when I moved here; my mother had just died, my marriage (to the Brit I moved here with) was a disaster – I ended up in a psychiatric ward for seven weeks a year and a half later – though I think that had more to do with early childhood trauma than anything else. I realised I'd suffered from depression since I was really small – and that may well have to do with the extreme un/up/rooted-ness of my earliest life; who knows? I wrote a lot as a kid – poems and stories – I spent long periods inside myself, whether I was in or outside my house; I'd go for long, long walks with my dog, playing a big dramatic scenario for hours – all in my head. From the age of 12, I also spent days on the guitar, shut in my room, obsessed – so the writing and music became fused and I began writing songs when I was 13. I think the constant moving, constantly questioning myself and my worth had a huge impact on my writing – it was the only acceptable place to explore the themes of misplacement or displacement; I didn't happily talk about it because I didn't understand at the time that that's what I was exploring. Even now, I find the themes of rootlessness – and that feeling of being 'other' and the odd one out – barge into my poems all the time, but I don't realise that's what I'm exploring until someone points it out to me – but it's inescapable, I think! I also lost my mother when I was 25, and that further excluded me – or that's how it felt at the time. You can see how much I've explored my parents' deaths in the poems – there was so much unsaid: my mother, because she died so young; my father, because he could be a difficult man and found it hard to be emotionally open, and by the time I could talk to him as an adult, he was lost to dementia.
It's interesting that you say some people find they compare the now with the then, the here with elsewhere – I think I do that, too; that may be one of the reasons I don't feel settled, or grounded, a lot of the time. When I am absolutely in the moment – which happens most often in a gig, in the middle of a song, or when I'm doing a reading - I am in heaven, because there's no other place I'm supposed to be, and I am not outside myself, looking at what I'm doing or how I'm behaving (and wondering if that's all okay). I don’t usually remember specific details about it. At its best, it’s entirely non-judgmental and zen-like, but I become very much part of what I'm reading or singing, so quite exposed and vulnerable as a result – sometimes it can feel a little too close to the edge. I've succeeded so far in staying just within the boundary, but I stretch it, take risks that are a bit frightening. I think that's also satisfying because I was expected to behave in a particular way when I was small (to accept all the moving and be a good girl, act ladylike, all that - we were in a military family, and my dad, a high-ranking officer, could be very critical and a little scary; I felt I had to 'be' a certain way – but I was probably too sensitive and self-censoring) – and when I can approach such an emotionally out-there place, it's quite exhilarating.
I think I spend a lot of time observing and thinking, although I don't notice at the time – and then I find I'm writing about these characters who have just decided to walk in onto the page fully formed and I'm not sure where they've come from. I'm having a great time with that at the moment – there's a character who keeps coming into my journal, and I like him a lot. I think I may be getting off the point.SHEENAGH:
"And then I find I'm writing about these characters who have just decided to walk in onto the page fully formed and I'm not sure where they've come from"
Yes, in your collection there are quite a few personae who aren't you. But it can take a while to see that, because you use a lot of first person. Sometimes the "I" in your poems clearly is you, at least in part, indicated by biographical detail, parents etc, so if the reader isn't careful she can find herself assuming every "I" is the writer – and then suddenly it dawns: no, this "I" is an invention… I like that, because it keeps the reader awake. I have interviewed several poets who use first person a lot, and they have various answers to the question "does it worry you if people assume the "I" is always autobiographical?" What would yours be?BARBARA:
I’m so glad you like that. It sometimes worries me that I use first person so much. I’ve tried to change to third many times in particular poems, but sometimes they just won’t have it – and fellow poets, in my workshop, will sometimes say ‘Why isn’t this in first person? It wants to be in first person,’ so I change it back again. It may be that I am more of a first person poet, but I do worry about the self-absorbed image that may engender, despite the poems very often going away from the actual life experience…
However, the current character walking into my poems absolutely comes in third person, and I’m really enjoying that. In answer to the question, it doesn’t really worry me, although I do often tell audiences that it isn’t necessarily me, so they’re on their toes, just to question their assumptions; allow the possibility that my poems are not necessarily my life. Also gives me a little more space, that possibly-not-autobiography stance, which makes the poems that are a bit close to the bone slightly easier to read to an audience! I do tell my students never to assume that the ‘I’ is automatically the autobiographical voice of the poet. In a good number of the poems, although they start from my own experience, they move into their own, so I can’t claim them as fully autobiographical anyway, as they take on their own lives.SHEENAGH:
Going back to these characters who keep walking into your work, this sounds like how a novel or a play might develop. Do you think you might branch out into other genres this way?BARBARA:
I would love to branch out. I am writing some short stories now – though they are very short. But they’re definitely stories, and written from one character voice or another wandering into my journal. I also have a few monologues that have simply ‘occurred’ and I’d like to find homes for them. I’d very much like to write a longer piece – especially a play, I think – or maybe a novel, though that seems somehow more daunting. The desire is there – but how on earth can I fill so many pages? Long poems don’t even happen very often for me; "Opal" is my longest poem so far – it’s rare that I write a poem that goes beyond one page (although there are a few two-pagers). The trick would be to keep the idea going far enough to write the longer work. But it is certainly something I’d like to try. SHEENAGH:
You are both a poet and a songwriter. Paul Henry, whom I've interviewed before, is another such. His musician side shows through in his poems in the use of form; he writes a lot of half-rhyme and a lot of form poems, including rondeaux and sestinas. You don't use rhyme or form much; when you do it tends to be looser, like unrhymed sonnets, and though your poems are musical, the rhythms are those of free verse. Do you always know when something's going to turn out to be a poem or a song, and is the process of writing them very different? Do they cross-fertilise at all?BARBARA:
I know; it’s funny, isn’t it? I’ve always tended towards free verse in poetry, though musicality has been a part of me since I was about 3 or 4 – both parents were musical, my uncle was a jazz musician, my aunt a concert grade pianist; I was singing or humming Harry Belafonte’s Calypso, Beethoven’s piano sonatas and John Philip Sousa marches since well before I could read. The song lyrics are formal (although they can be pretty loose at times). In poems, I do sometimes use half-rhyme, although it may be less obvious than half – is there such a thing as quarter-rhyme? But I think it more often presents itself, rather than me being deliberate in the choice of rhyme (the deliberate internal and end para-rhymes and end half-rhymes in "Beck and call", for example). I’d like to write more formal poems – more sestinas ("Dry" is the only one so far) and a sonnet corona, for starters, but the other poems march in and I have such limited time these days to write so lack the concentrated time these forms would require. I’m trying to put together a project at the moment, which will need funding, and I’d be aiming at a section of the poems to have some kind of strict form. I think there’s a fair bit of internal rhyme and assonance in many of the current poems, but again, they are not necessarily planned as such. In revision, I tend to locate them and hitch the lines to the inherent rhythm, and consider the musicality that’s been set up, how to echo or enhance the word combinations (and ideas). There is often a loose pentameter to the lines, which sometimes assists me in making line-ending decisions. SHEENAGH:
"there’s a fair bit of internal rhyme and assonance in many of the current poems, but again, they are not necessarily planned as such. In revision, I tend to locate them and […] consider the musicality that’s been set up"
Ah, that answers a question I was going to ask! That would be how, for instance, the sound-patterns in the first verse of "Greyhound" came about: There are consonanatal or vowel repetitions like the K of ankles-clicks-cheek-truck and the long O of Wyoming-swollen-window-snow-road, but also more complicated and interlacing ones – the long E of "cheek" leads on to "sleep", but the P of "sleep" then leads to the echo with "stop"". This is what happens when one revises with sound in mind, right?BARBARA:
Oh dear! I think it may be more accidental than that, but it’s probably accurate. I often don’t have a conscious musical brain looking over the work; I think I work more intuitively than that when it comes to writing and revision, probably because music has been such a huge part of my world – I was singing, playing and writing songs from such an early age – poems, too, though they were (as I think I’ve already said) often more like song lyrics; in any case, the sounds of the words, the musicality and how the sounds fit together – these must have been the deciding factors. So that has spilled over into my revisions, most definitely. But often many of the sounds occur in the first draft, setting up patterns, most likely, that I take note of somewhere in my brain, to enable me to ‘revise with sound in mind’, as you say (the more I think of that, the more apt it is). Those sound patterns in "Greyhound", for example – I’ve just had a look at the earliest draft, and what happened is that, in revision, I took out lines to allow the sounds that were already working to take the lead and I did change words and lines to allow the musicality to come through. How much of this was actually on purpose and how much just trimming/editing/changing until it ‘felt right’, I’m not sure. I’m not sure how conscious that process was.
When I’m writing, do I know if it’s a poem or a song lyric? Generally, I’d say yes. The poems tend to be more of an experimental exploration, less formal, as you’ve noticed. They rarely know where they are going until they get there (and even then, it can be questionable). The song lyrics tend to be immediately more formal; usually – though not always – the line endings rhyme. They often come out in big chunks, sometimes with an accompanying melody, usually with a strong rhythm in mind. They do tell a story, most often, though the narrative often shifts during the writing. Actually, whether a song or a poem, I never know how it will end up.
The thing with poems and song lyrics, I think, is that poems contain their own music, whereas song lyrics need the external music to attach to in order to work fully. The words in songs have to be singable – they need the vowels to move the lines (forget words like mythological); in poems, the words have to speak well – sometimes they can do both. Poems tend to take more leaps; song lyrics can be a little more linear. Some songwriters’ lyrics can work as poems, but I think that’s the exception, rather than the rule. They can of course cross-fertilise (what a great way to put it) – and that’s a treat when it happens to pull them both together – it becomes a kind of song-with-spoken-word and is experimental and quite thrilling. And of course, sometimes, a lone line comes up and I think it’s part of a poem, and it wants to be part of a song instead or a stanza wants to be a song verse. Does that make sense? SHEENAGH:
Further to that, one wouldn't perhaps guess that a musician-poet would be so keen on prose poems! What led you to this form; are there any particular models that were important? And again, how do you decide when a poem wants to be in that quite specialised format? BARBARA:
Charles Simic’s poems opened my eyes fairly wide; I was introduced to his work by Chris Whitley, an American musician/singer/songwriter. I wish I could remember the specific poem – Chris had it framed; Simic had signed a torn-out page of poetry. This particular one was a lineated poem. Anyway, when I read it, all kinds of things began connecting in my head and I started writing very differently; it was a ‘light went on’ moment. I was just starting to write poetry seriously – by which time I mean the poems were not just non-rhyming verses for songs! – and I began seeing and taking the leaps in poems that I couldn’t/didn’t in songs. I bought Simic’s books and read them, not understanding some of them, not caring because I liked the way the words went together so much. The World Doesn’t End
, Simic’s Pulitzer-winning collection of non-titled prose poems, knocked me out – I loved the surreality and absurdity of some of the poems and the clarity and specificity of his imagery. There’s one poem – this one not humorous, really bleak – that I use in my classes and it keeps renewing itself:
The old farmer in overalls hanging from a barn beam. The cows looking sideways. The old woman kneeling under his swaying feet in her Sunday black dress and touching the ground with her forehead like a Mohammedan. Outside the sky is full of sudsy clouds above an endless plowed field with no other landmarks in view.
The poem – its concrete images, its present continuous tense of the verbal phrases, the fact that there is only one full sentence in the poem (with is as the verb, when so much of the poem is about what isn’t) – would lose its drive, be less effective if it were lineated. This, for me, is essential for the prose poem – its defiance of form and the fact that it would be a lesser poem if it had set line endings.
I read prose poems quite a while before I began to write them. I think it was a workshop on prose poetry with Carrie Etter that opened the window on my own writing – "The straw" (eventually) came out of an exercise from the workshop and I began writing prose poems more frequently after that. In deciding on format, the prose poem works for me when the poem – which tends to look at one thing; it’s quite concentrated – insists on driving its way through, without consideration for line endings that would add or subtract anything to or from the poem. The imagery kind of has this insistence about it and doesn’t want the eye to linger on a word or image at the end of a line (save the analysis for later). I usually try to lineate prose poems at first, when I’m not sure where/how it wants to sit on the page, but stanza breaks/ line endings / subtext are never satisfying – the poem seems to have, as I mentioned, a kind of insistence – I’m not sure there’s another way to put that. It is happy enough to be put in a box (in fact, it really needs this kind of enclosing) but doesn’t want any definition within the box. That’s my take on it, anyway. I think.SHEENAGH:
Ah, workshops…. I struggle to understand the lofty dismissal of these in some quarters – "sounds like a workshop exercise" is enough to damn any poem for some people. If this just meant the scaffolding of a poem was too obvious, then maybe, but I suspect it actually harks back to a Romantic delusion that poems ought to spring fully formed from "inspiration". What part do workshops play in your writing process; how do you use them? Do they have a parallel in the music world?BARBARA:
Hmm – lucky people who have their poems spring up fully formed! (And SO many beginning poets/students think the poem that first appears on the page is actually the poem…) I love workshops, and workshop exercises. I see them as fantastic learning and writing tools. Very occasionally, I write from an entirely blank page, but not often. I used to go to workshops regularly. Now I teach a lot and I don’t have time (or money, strangely enough, though I am working more…) to attend extra writing workshops – plus, now I want to go to workshops that will really stretch me, and those are harder to find – and it’s difficult to attend with my current time commitments. What I do do, when I can, is to do a writing exercise along with the class – this has brought about a number of poems. I love the way a writing exercise allows raw material to pour out onto the page while I watch – usually it will surprise me; more often than not, it will lead to a poem if it hasn’t already begun. There are a some exercises I give my students that I still use on my own – the helpful thing about exercises is that they often tend to work on all levels, at least, that’s been my experience. I collect books by poets and writers about writing (I’m really enjoying Kim Addonizio’s books), to give me ideas for exercises and teaching and I often find them useful for my own writing. I go to a peer poetry workshop every week – we don’t do exercises, but we close-read published work and workshop our own poems; it keeps me motivated and moving my work on, even if I don’t bring a poem in. Most of us have been in the group for years. I think I’d really miss it if I didn’t have it.
In the music world, I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent. In The Dear Janes, I collaborated with another singer/songwriter/musician in London for twelve yeras, and we did a lot of batting ideas around, which was a really stimulating way to work. In New York, I was part of the folk music circuit, and we’d all listen to (and support – or seethe with envy over) our peer singer/songwriters. Sometimes we’d play and sing together; it was like a collective. I learned a lot about songwriting. Suzanne Vega was there at the time, and Jack Hardy, Frank Christian, Dave Van Ronk... so many musicians and really good writers. Shawn Colvin was around, too, though not such a regular as Vega. It was a real community, extremely helpful in learning the craft. It could also get quite snarky and competitive (similar to some poetry circuits). I guess I still collaborate – I’m lucky to live with an extraordinary musician (and a fantastic poem editor, though not a poet!) and we have a lot of respect and admiration for each other’s work. SHEENAGH:
I'm interested also in the models/motivation for what one might call your word-game poems - ones like "Definite article" and "Beck and call". The latter, in fact, does use a sort of formal device; a repeated consonant that seems to very much dictate the word choice and drive the narrative. What particular buzz does this kind of writing give you? BARBARA:
I think the buzz is in the energy of the unexpectedness of those poems – I remember, with "Definite article", listing and listing these things I thought my father must have been going through – he had Alzheimer’s – before his death. It was the energy that eventually carried it along, and the rhythm of that – those were the deciders in the editing – how the body just keeps going along, despite the loss of mental function and the heart pumps and the blood flows – until it doesn’t. For me, it’s an incredibly emotional poem, but the list form of the poem and the energy from that form push/es it forward and allows the thing itself to happen, so the thinking about what IS happening/the emotion of the piece gets put off until after the poem is read. That’s the result, for me – it wasn’t written with that in mind, that separation of thing and emotion, but that ended up being how the poem wanted to go, while echoing the steady loss of function of the body/brain. I hope this doesn’t sound pompous! I’ve never really thought about the why/how of the poem in such detail before.
With "Beck and call", it was Don Paterson who suggested – when I told him, during a week-long workshop in Spain, that I was a bit stuck – that I try para-rhymes, which he defined as the repetition of the first and last sounds of the chosen word (or syllable) – the words can be lengthened but the beginning and ending sounds have to be the same, the vowels within the word section varying; e.g. buck, beck, back, Buick, Bucky’s, Quebec, tobacco, humbucker, Rebecca, etc. I chose Beck, decided to use one in every line and the first line came, then another and another, and it was like a game (as was the sestina for me). It also has regular line-end half-rhymes, though these are not so obvious. That poem was hugely enjoyable to write – the narrative (and the poem) was discovered entirely through the rhyme – and the rhythm. That was one of the things I learned from Don – using rhyme can really carry or lead the writing of the whole thing. In the case of "Beck" and the sestina ("Dry"), lines were often a real surprise, driven by the para-rhyme or the end word – and I followed the poem, as opposed to reaching for lines to go into the poem. Coincidentally, in songwriting it’s, more often than not, been that way for me – sometimes I’ve used a rhyming dictionary (Sammy Cahn’s Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary
is brilliant) and come across a word I liked and it’s changed the course of the verse – or the whole song.SHEENAGH:
One more question – where do you see your work going next?BARBARA:
Where do I see the poems going next? At the moment, there are about 30 or more with the same character - these are a real step away from To the Boneyard
- and I'd like to continue to follow these and work on them and see where they take me. I'm hoping they'll be a longish pamphlet first - although there may be enough pages for a collection on its own soon - not sure about the wisdom of a collection with the same character throughout. (And of course, I need a publisher!) The poems are all in 3rd person and concern Mr Ferndean, a male middle-aged character, single, post-retirement (turns out he was a pharmacist). He's quite well educated, a bit awkward, easily embarrassed, animal lover - owner of a golden retriever, white-and-black cat and a parrot (who occaisionally drops sunflower kernels into the dog's ear when the dog is asleep, if his ear falls into a folded-back position); is smitten with a local woman who has no idea (and would probably be quite shocked) and bicycles around his small town. He's not all sun and light - he does have a temper as well. He also has a somewhat ornery, semi-foul-mouthed, outspoken friend who comes into a few of the poems. And his mother is 93 and getting a bit frail, so there are issues around that as well. I am very fond of him - it's a very different writing experience for me; he walked onto a page one day and hasn't really stopped, although he's slowed down a bit - he generally shows up during longer holiday periods when there's time to concentrate on new poems - sometimes during term-time, too, but there's less brain-space, so not as often. Does this sound completely crazy?
Beyond the Mr F poems, I'm considering looking at more formal sequences, though free verse poems keep popping up. For that, I'll need much more concentrated time, so it may be a slow start. And in terms of subject matter, I keep thinking I'm finished with the parent poems, but we'll see. My observations are, of course, shifting as I get older and I'm becoming more and more interested in two areas: examining my relationship to the natural world, primarily the ocean(s), but from a more ecopoetical stance, attempting to blur that line between observer and observed, to see how far I can push the subjective/objective points of view.
I'm also feeling the itch to visit and write about places I have links to but have little or no memory of - places I lived when I was very small and places that were instrumental in shaping my world view and the directions my life has taken - places I have never re-visited. I'd like to record the experience in a kind of once-removed stance, so it's not necessarily me as the narrator; I'm not sure - it's really early stages. I was born in Rhode Island, but we left when I was 10 months old and I've never been back. It's another link to the open water, RI being on the east coast. I'm really eager to explore the easternmost point in the US, where we lived after RI for 2 years - Lubec, Maine (pop.1,359 in 2010) - across a bridge to New Brunswick, full of amazing language and landscape - Quoddy Narrows, Passamaquoddy Bay, Moose Island, Campobello Island... At the moment it's minus 16 degrees Centigrade in Lubec, so very different from anything I've known since! And then there's Hawaii, where we lived twice, which I feel a real pull to explore; my family's life changed so very much during that time and my own development was, I think, fixed during those years. In fact, these places are, significantly, all on the water, so I may be looking at a project where I am and am not present at different times (as the subjective narrator), combining the ideas of stance.
I'm also warming to the idea of writing a play, or at least a full-length monologue. My background is in theatre as well as music, so the theoretical idea of a one-woman play has been swimming around my head for a while. God knows when - I need to loosen up some time and get some funding! Kefalonia
On the flight home together, he was quiet,
already absent, editing her out of the tales
he would relate to his wife.
That reckless summer, he could make no other choice
and she was blind beyond the holiday,
her life contained in its two weeks.
They'd found a beach, inaccessible by land,
made love against their rented boat, she
doubled over the bow. They dared anyone to discover them.
At night, shooting stars competed with the thickness of cicadas
and wet slaps against the docks
where fishermen beat the octopuses.
They drank Ouzo out of plastic cups, ate tomatoes and sardines.
She swam every Ionian cove they could find,
back and forth its entire width,
and again the next day, to make it more real.
Each bay disappeared
as soon as they mounted the hill to the road.
During supper at the taverna, she fed kalamari
to the feral cats under the table. She could feel
the prickle of fleas on her skin.
They shot whiskey in Harry's Bar, clambered up terraces
of olive groves, sailed into Fiscardo.
On their first holiday, the world was ancient.Definite article
The pencil the paper the lines the forearm
the hand the fingers the knuckles the tendons
the bones the muscles the compulsion the lessons
the handwriting paper the graphite on off-white
the spaces the spaces between the letters
the words the lines between the pages
the synapses the oxygen the cut-off point
the freeze the fear the distraction the memory
the grief of others the lack of function
the lack of care the brain shutting down
the loss of the mind's eye the lapse of the tongue
the who the why the where the when
the loss of control of movement of cause
the loss of effect the dark the light
the flicker the shadow the eyelids the cheekbones
the fall of the chest the heartbeat the drift
the outbreath the stillness the stillness thePensacola Beach Bridge
I would cross it each new summer, a toll bridge
with a hill in the middle to let boats through,
the dolphin sign a carnival pointing the way.
I'd throw coins in the basket, hear the rattle and ding
before the striped arm went up.
The old bridge sat alongside, its draw removed.
Fishermen lined its rails, gulls dived for scraps.
Everything eased, like my brown legs into sand.
Hard bodies, new drugs, I crossed over to them
with the songs on the radio – Take Me to the River,
What a Fool Believes, How Do I Survive.
Last September, a storm with a boy’s name
destroyed it. Photographs show great chunks gnashed away
en route to the remnants of Oriole Beach, Palafox Street.
The birds calling over Pensacola Sound don’t know
how the seasons rush, single days like the fish
they swoop down upon.
Perhaps there’s no bridge to anywhere we’ve been.
All those stars we see that no longer exist.
In the blaze of the September sun, the glints
on the still water under what remains.
Barbara Marsh's website is due an update soon, but meanwhile her Facebook page is here To the Boneyard
can be bought from Eyewear Publishing
and there's a review here