February 26, 2009

Poems by Anita Barrows

Questo muro

Quando mi vide star pur fermo e duro
turbato un poco disse: "Or vedi figlio:
tra Beatrice e te è questo muro."

(When he [Virgil] saw me standing there unmoving,
he was a bit disturbed and said, "Now look, son,
between Beatrice and you there is this wall.")
       -Dante, Purgatorio XXVII

You will come at a turning of the trail
to a wall of flame

After the hard climb & the exhausted dreaming

you will come to a place where he
with whom you have walked this far
will stop, will stand

beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame

that blocks your vision of what
comes after. And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,

who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands—
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks the soot, the tear-tracks—

he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
& everything you have known since the beginning

is this: this wall. Between yourself
& the beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swaying with wildflowers, the shaft

of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume

whatever solidness this is
you call your life, & send
you out, a tremor of heat,

a radiance, a changed
flickering thing?

Heart Work

Monday. Bronze sunlight
on the worn gray rug
in the dining room where Viva sits
playing her recorder. Pain-ripened sunlight

I nearly wrote, like the huge
vine-ripened tomato
my friend brought yesterday
from her garden, to add to our salad:
meaning what comes

in its time to its own
end, then breaks
off easily, needing no more
from summer.

The notes
of some medieval dance
spill gracefully from the stream
of Viva's breath. Something
that had been stopped

is beginning to move: a leaf
driven against rock
by a current
frees itself, finds its way again
through moving water. The angle of light

is low, but still it fills
this space we're in. What interrupts me

is sometimes an abundance. My sorrow too,
which grew large through summer
feels to me this morning

as though if I touched it
where the thick dark stem

is joined to the root, it would release itself
whole, it would be something I could use.

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is author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won the National Book Award in 2001.

is an educator, activist, and author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

is a poet and psychologist, and translator of Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God