Karin Wraley Barbee



My travels are a curvature.
In the morning things moved around me:
dogs, cars, cows grazing. First, I was tendrils

of a wild cucumber, then insects carried me
as pollen, to a waiting bloom,
then, I was stone cells—

shell of an English walnut.
Again, slow trickle of sap, then,
in the ground, a beet. In the afternoon

a farmer walked to my tree to check the pears
for blight. He turned me in his strong hand.
The finches flapped. A cat scratched. Rain.

In the evening I met another man
as milkweed—we were white tufts, just nearly
wind borne, the softest yet. And I told him

about the dogs and cars but not
about the hands, and he told me about a boat,
and the mud in a horse’s hoof. And

just then, he was gone—black seed
of sunflower, he bowed away. I wandered again,
climbing, grapes this time, up a leaning arbor.



Nervous child, I was a touched eyelid closing,
I was a runner, buckshot into yellow sky, matter
over matter, reflex over wind, hair in my eye. Nerves

grow in gristle, dark organs, skin, tongue,
all remember — they died. I breathed, a child half-blue,
arms buried in a rising ash, I breathed. My father,

my freckle under his freckled thumb. Cell. Droplet. Body
is a bag of water. Knees gone, I rose higher. I curled
over, around, up through. I climbed. Arms gone,

I spread wider, full and strong. Ground fell away.
At my roots: mounds of ash. In my branch: a nest.
A cold, pale egg, palm weighty to my breast.



We are bordered by mountains and mines of copper and cobalt,
scattered about us are swamps in the northlands, we are blue
and green, we are red veins, we are snow, warm to your blood
we are pressed against you, tucked under wings of birds,
we could live here, tightly crouched, fit ourselves inside an olive,
our bodies thin, we travel up through blades of grass,
these veins split black to red, shoot out in growths from deep
to tip, a thousand directions, this maze splinters in red, burrows
through thick gray sponge, God, without the beating we’d know less,
yes, but more, we’d be just lakes—in these woods, vine strewn, dark
prisms spatter, lost birds turn to straw, we find a new way to walk,
dirt through fingers, wet leaves to breasts, we crawl through fallen trees,
hollow and porous they fill with us, mushrooms blooming, white
to our bark, we stream, throngs, we slow through such millions, swarm,
feed, tongue clicking we are devouring, teeth, silence, teeth, bone.



These poems came from: reading about dead civilizations, trees, botany in general, the death of Daniel Pearl, flipping through old Time Life books about lost civilizations, being morbid, thinking about survivors guilt, saying ‘what if’, being tired, and panic about thesis.