You have sung us down.
Middle of the island you whispered
the treasure-bearing goblin song, then howled it.
To escape the lines, some held their ears,
some gnashed their teeth, some ran,
some drowned swimming out of earshot.
There are nightmares a human enacts
which are the work of gods. Hatred swirls in the earth
like the polluted sea gyres. Some jötunn,
lonely demon craving an ally,
slid a thorn in your side deep below the ribs,
a death-in-life wound. Pawn,
you were implanted in a uterus.
Out of the Navel of Heaven you emerged,
kid with a fucked-up plan in his overalls,
scrawled by a god of war.
You were a virgin pharaoh limping the desert
in a coat of snarling dogs;
a grim princess crushing a serpent
between your fingers, gathering venom
in a bowl; a physicist haunted
by an atom humming in a microscope.
You fled to the bawds of the valley.
You appealed to the progenies of chaos.
None could remove the thorn.
One day you woke singing the hemorrhaging song,
as if it were yours; the Mein Kampf song;
song; the sandman-over-your-bed song
of the tongue-tied wound in your rib,
which choked the kid with the deaf sister
at five in the afternoon. Your song suffocated
the kid with head lice; smothered
the pumpkin pie eater; asphyxiated
the kid with the ham radio;
strangled the kid with the potty mouth;
throttled the cigarette-smoker put back a year
whose mother keeps ending up
you-know-where; gagged the girls
too young to kiss who had never kissed.
You sang us down in the sunlit forest
while golden plovers sang. You sang us down
in the fresh cut grass. Time is a bleached
jawbone wind howls through, yawning a melody.
Bodies were hauled out by searchlight.
I cannot look at the white sheets laid across them.
A few stumbled from caves, shivering,
humming the tune, petrified.
I would like to sing your magic backwards.
Original appearance in The Malahat Review No. 180 Autumn 2012
John Wall Barger’s poems are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Antioch Review. His fourth poetry collection, The Mean Game, is coming out with Palimpsest Press in spring 2019. He lives in West Philly.
Author photograph by Jeremy McCormack