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Bearings: A Collection of Poems

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Title: Bearings: A Collection of Poems
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Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0010360/00001

Material Information

Title: Bearings: A Collection of Poems
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0010360:00001


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BEARINGS: A COLLECTION OF POEMS By KEVIN BARENTS A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORID A IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2005

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Copyright 2005 by Kevin Barents

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For Brandy

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iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank William Logan, Michael Hofmann, and Sidney Wade for their generous help with this thesis.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................v ii I) FLORIDIAN PASTORALS............................................................................................1 Domiciliary of the State.................................................................................2 Poem with Semicolons...................................................................................3 Crocodile in the Drink....................................................................................4 Meditation with Sun and Moon......................................................................5 II) SONGS TO INSECTS....................................................................................................6 Moth...............................................................................................................7 Mosquito.........................................................................................................8 Banana Spider................................................................................................9 Houseflies.....................................................................................................10 III) DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES...................................................................................11 The Sphinx's Lullaby....................................................................................12 God's Favorite..............................................................................................13 Humanzee.....................................................................................................15 Alligator Blood.............................................................................................16 IV) HOW THE MOON WAS TRAPPED.........................................................................17 V) DIRECTIONS...............................................................................................................21 To Himself in Ten Years..............................................................................22 Directions.....................................................................................................23 Allegory of the Dog-Sentries.......................................................................24 From Oku's Narrow Road by Bashou..........................................................25 VI) BELOW THE FALLS.................................................................................................26 Comparable Suffering..................................................................................27

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vi Two Views from Inishmore.........................................................................28 Eight Short Poems by Issa............................................................................30 Below the Falls.............................................................................................31 VII) CALENDAR..............................................................................................................32 February.......................................................................................................33 April.............................................................................................................34 November.....................................................................................................35 NOTES.......................................................................................................................... .....36 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................38

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vii Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of the Fine Arts BEARINGS: A COLLECTION OF POEMS By Kevin Barents August, 2005 Chair: William Logan Major Department: English This is a collection of twenty-four poems completed while studying at the University of Florida.

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1I)FLORIDIAN PASTORALS

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2 Domiciliary of the State The patchy woods breed acrobatic squirrels. I reach only so far into the world but, all the same, like Atlas, have to hold it all entirely myself. I'm holed up in a new clich and ta ke out a chair to sit in my ashtray yard, accommodating it with the bearings of a wave-bewildered man expectorated on a foreign sand. The lycanthrope, his first night as a beast, is bored already. Languid from their feast of thorny insects, camouflaged anoles nod epileptic yesses from the holes in my privacy fence. Like Plato's brother, they agree at once with everything I say.

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3 Poem with Semicolons Giant herons croak asthmatically; a school of slender minnows grazes the scum on slopes of sunken leaves; the banded face of a raccoon parts a sheet of catta ils and slides out, belly dragging like a pregnant cat's, waddling with a slow nonchalance I could see only while hidden. The horizon is sending up a black feather; they're burning something in the county.

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4 Crocodile in the Drink "Water no get enemy." -Fela Kuti Four pairs of cardinals pick the blasted buds from the tips of our hibiscus, red and drab by turns. The shadow of our house cuts the lawn in half. Dry leaves cough out the run of small lizards, arranging and rearranging their domains. The fall is settling. A stray Egyptian cat, spotted like an ocelot, waits by the water-dish I propped under the drip of a spigot for the birds. Her agitated tail recoils; patterned sides control their measured heaving. All else is still. Her tiny mind is quiet, waiting only to register the texture of success.

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5 Meditation with Sun and Moon Day Stitched in with threads of grass root, the dunes hold themselves against the tides. Half the moon is embedded in the blue, a fingernail the color of the clouds. The sea stretches out to a clean line. It seems to break itself apart and cower at our feet, but I know that it's as dead as the rest of the earth. Dusk Between enormous things: the sky and sea, the earth and sky, the night a nd day, the earth and sea . I'm held together in the lust of elements, cradled between great temperatures. The moon looks past me at the setting sun and scrambles to keep up. The sun drops away and drags the day behind it. The moon ignites. Night I wound a log to make it burn. Stars crackle down. The fleshy smoke of rotten wood encapsulates vague desires. A light plays on the frozen face of the handsome, faithful moon. Voyeur, let her go. You're one admirer of many.

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6II)SONGS TO INSECTS

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7 Moth You're not stupid; you're being deceived. Feathered horns tap into the underworld. Your tar-black eyes are ravenous for light. Disobey, this once, whatever's forcing you so deep into the rolling flames of my fire.

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8 Mosquito 1. Little one, a fleck of ash from immolated cannibals. Fireflies keep lanterns lit to see your tiny dagger. The facets of your small red eyes divide the world like mirror-balls. Keen for heat, a sourness of breath, you steer to the meal of my blood. Your beak slips in up to its hilt; a sly spit numbs the insult. Afterward, too fat to fly, you sit nearby and wait. 2. Sprawled on a pane of pond, you look into your youth. A raft of black eggs descends into a rancid commune.

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9 Banana Spider Legs doubled up for strength, so that you look like an "X" with a head, you hold to what you've knotted in the fork of the orange tree just outside the window of my study. Hair, coarse as a boar's mane, bristles from your knees. The storm has stolen half your iridescence. Trees are going down across town, the crack and echo like gunshot. You've abandoned the broad web where you collected your cruel custom from the wind. Gray sarcophagi hunch in the tatters with storm-broken twigs. You hang there like a broken hand, prostrate to the gales, swung up past the point where chains would slacken on a swing. You've held out like a soldier but the rains have just begun.

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10 Houseflies I knew you all when you were young. I tried to drown you in the garbage bin with bleach and hose-water, but you floated up and swam, jerking little grubs like bloated rice, or someone punching from inside a tiny body-bag. And now you circle overhead, small, neat, glossy with newness, helping yourselves to what was mine, angels from the manmade world.

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11III)DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES

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12 The Sphinx's Lullaby Why now, my dear, after so long, do you choose to try your bravery? Don't you know that if you fail I must devour you? Can't you see it's early spring outside the recess of our cave, where the cyclamen are opening their eyes? Is it the brashness of your age now that your mane is thickening and your adolescent wings have held the sky? Was it on a night you lay with your head between my breasts, when I sang you off to sleep, that you first coveted my purr? What principles are holding me to play by my own heartless rules? And what riddle could you not have heard me tell? "Which wine can swell more of a skin than it can hold?" What's left to ask but something even I don't know the answer to? How could a creature ever bear to take back from the world the solitary thing she's given it?

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13 God's Favorite Our bakery is closed, the sawmill quiet. Everyone is wailing on the dais of the Bamboo Landing. Some are launching off or heading up the Tamiami Trail. Mother-Father, forgive us our betrayal. The County Health Official sent a car to remind us that we have to bury him. The Women of the Planetary Court are begging us to wait it out, but this was never part of his hypothesis. It's Christmas and the prophet hasn't moved. The Youngers have reneged their abstinence. Immortal Teed, indeed. He's three days dead from what that mob of wage-slavers did to him in the brawl. We scan the swamps for seraphim. Today, of all days, I'm reluctant to hold my breath for someone else to come again. As Dr. Teed himself said, it is not enough to trust in faith alone, we can empiricize our Koreshanity. But faith was what we wanted him to have and he knew what to do with it. As new illuminations came to him each night he began to take his dreams more seriously: God as the Beautiful Woman, sympathy implicit in the bobcat's caterwaul, the import of an omen when he saw the herds of fat sirenians move through the tannic waters of our estuary, the cruciform anhingas frozen there. Less and less he doubted we'd transform this hell into the New Jerusalem, the center of the world, ten million strong; and we were building with that magnitude in mind as we graveled out these avenues

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14 with sun-bleached seashells to absorb what light the moon invests in them, their only traffic gopher tortoises pilfering the dregs of our neglected gardens. More than one of us has claimed the Master's House. I've hung so long inside the hollow earth he proved, with brilliant gasses shining from the core, it's strange to think it otherwise, as if I've hatched out of a giant egg and face a world exposed to endless, empty space.

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15 Humanzee When I was five, they gave me a mirror. The strange boy in it inched up to me, deep-set eyes fixed in mine, muzzled lips hung open in wonder. As it dawned on me, the new boy contorted his swollen face in disgust. I looked behind the mirror but already knew why I was treated like the chimps. The humans cuddled me back then and let me play with their dogs. Now they only take my measurements. They smile, but act nervous. I smile and stand as straight as I can. I do everything right the first time. Some day they'll have to take me with them. I have no voice but I can form the words.

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16 Alligator Blood The deck is cold. The place is lit like a hospital. I prayed to the Holy Spirit that I'd make rent. I've got real gold on my wrist. Everyone else is dressed like a tourist. Hard Rock Caf just rivered his flush. It's been bad beats all night. I need a rush. I think of Maria, the look on her face when she saw me packing the suitcase. My mouth is dry from recycled air. I reach in my pocket and get out the bus-fare. The windowless walls are painted up nice with scenes of some Italian paradise. Where is the pay-off? The wages of sin? I have to catch perfect to win.

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17IV)HOW THE MOON WAS TRAPPED

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18 In the province of Rewa, a man from Nadoria was great friends with a man who lived nearby in the village of Taci. One night when the moon was bright the two paddled out to the fishing grounds offshore. The man from Taci hauled in fish after fish while the man from Nadoria sat with a flaccid line drooping from his fingers. All at once, the line went taut and something pulled back hard from deep beneath the bone-white moon reposing in the black gloss on the back of the docile sea. It took half the night to wear the tugger out. The boat dragged against the grain of the waves. It was too big to tow; they had to haul it in, its gills exhausted from their flight, the size of all the other fish combined. They swaddled it and bound it to the boat so that it lay between them It seemed to sleep. The moon was so bright the men could see branches of coral reaching up as if to pull them down. Jellyfish swished in the current like the skirt of intestines worn by the witch Likuwawa. The men began to bicker over who would get to cook the fish. At last th ey settled on old law-the man from Taci had the greater number. The next day was hot as oven stones. Jungle fowl took refuge in the shade. The man from Nadoria kept the news of his fish to himself, and languidly prepared his hair. He draped a sash of barkcloth over one shoulder and lit out for Taci without a word to his wife. The sun was headed down. The flies retired and mosquitoes braved the last light of day. The air was sickly sweet with sandalwood. He walked through the bounty of Rewa, past turtle-ponds and rows of tubers swelling from the ground. He forded rivers writhing with savory eels. He swallowed hard and coughed; he almost choked on his own spit as he anticipated the feast. As he neared the village, peals of cackling overcame the din of birds and insects.

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19 He ran into a gang of giggling boys coming down the path from the village, picking their teeth with needles--no, slender bones! In Taci, all the villagers had clumps of flaky, pearl-white meat cupped in one hand. Some were lazing in the dark of their huts, sprawled on mats of soft pandanus leaves, holding their swollen stomach s and letting out groans. Children swarmed around, squealing like piglets. The man from Nadoria went to the loudest house. His friend came out; his breath was peppery with narcotic kava, grubs of meat in his teeth. "You're late, my friend. We just finished eating your fish," he said, and yawned. The man from Nadoria turned and walked away without a word. On the way home, he ground his teeth together. His stomach whined and begged like a stray dog. He thought of what to do about his friend. He'd bring him to Nadoria in ropes and break his greedy head on the braining stone. "I'll truss him like a frog and bake his corpse in the oven of the village spirithouse and have my fill of long-pig. We'll throw the bones up in the trees of the village to celebrate. In the afterlife, the gods will make him eat buckets of phlegm and manure before they club him to a spongy pulp and eat him a second time." But Rewa was at peace and to kill a man would mean the death of more than just his friend's strangled widow. He had a better idea. The moon was shining bright enough that night for him to make his way without a torch. His revenge was just as cl ear as he moved through it. He'd catch and kill the whale-tooth-colored moon that lent its light to Taci, so there would be no moonlight for his friend or his friend's descendents ever again. At home he woke his wife and told her to make a pudding from coconut, taro, and sugar. She was bearded with tattoos to hide her wrinkles, and the ink sheltered her frown.

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20 The next day he took some friends to help him cut branches from the mighty she-oak trees and haul them back to the outskirts of Nadoria. He made a trap and baited it with the pudding. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had filled two halves of a coc onut with ocean water and hidden them under leaves beside the trap. The night came on. The moon lumbered over them. The man drew in the evening air and called, "Moon, come and eat this delicious pudding." The moon came down and began to eat the pudding, but the woman threw the water in his face and followed it with a handful of dark mud. The startled moon jumped back so fast the trap didn't have time to grab him. He escaped back to his place in the sky, with a splattered face. The woman knew the value of moonlight and preserved it, even for the greedy Taci people. This is why the giant she-oak trees are so abundant in Nadoria.

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21V)DIRECTIONS

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22 To Himself in Ten Years And childhood--what have you kept of that? The cocker spaniel w ith a gargoyle's eyes? Our blood-caked fingers harvesting a tooth too early, to have currency with ghosts?

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23 Directions Take the bypass, ignoring empty threats like "Speed Enforced By Aircraft." Buffer walls will give out to a strip of stores, the first to buy my labor out from under me: The Box Shop, Mr. Backpack, Just Wallets. Turn off where the builders left a farmhouse as mascot for the blocks of self-same homes they threw up on the orchard overnight. The undulating lawn has covered up an orange clay, acrid as a diaper bin. Take it slow around the cul-de-sac. You'll see the house, a faux-colonial, occluded, maybe, by a giant plum we put in small, where I was put to sleep to laughter from the swim and tennis club. These all went up the year my family forced me on this place and made it home to template suffering and template snow, template liquor stupor, template thoughts I can't rephrase or extricate from here. Cut through the neighbors' yard, down to the creek that chews a khaki path through plots of weeds, where, on days the sun stayed sick behind the clouds and the sky was bleached like Navy uniforms, I hunted template things along the banks.

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24 Allegory of the Dog Sentries The seven openings spread around my face, each within a foot of th e others, open inward. A steady stream of dogs filters through each. I understand that many more dogs never find the door. The dogs report, like sentries, in a rudi mentary language I don't pretend to understand fully. One bark, I know, means one thing and no barks something entirely different. From what I can piece together of their stories, I get fragments like the following: the picture of an upright ram caught in a thicket in The Illustrated Golden Bough ; the percussion of a banjo roll; a rack of spoons on the wall; the earthy bite of garlic just breaking through the seal of a three-day-old cold; a testimony from the battle of Shiloh, "where flashes of lightning showed hogs feeding on the ungathered dead"; an image of Hart Crate, obliterated, swilling Cutty Sark and thrusti ng his head inside the horn of a gramophone; the news that the sun is four hundred times more distant from earth than the moon and also four hundred times larger, exactly, so that the shape of one fits perfectly inside that of the other; a steady tally of catastrophes. I sometimes try to fool the dogs into giving out more information than they should, or different information, or into keeping quiet, anything to get them all to lie down together.

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25 From Oku's Narrow Road by Bashou 1. The moon and sun move, never settling, through the country. Boatmen spend their entire lives just floating on the water. A bent old driver gr abs his packhorse by the mouth. Travel has become our home. The an cients all died out on the road; me, too. Time was being stripped away, like clouds before a wind, and I was eaten by a wanderlust, thinking . of the coast, of my last fall in that rive rside hut where I took up the cobwebs of another slow year, of the im passable weather at Shir akawa checkpoint . A demon fidgeted inside me; the god of wande rers kept nagging as I passed his little shrines; I had to drop everything, darn my long underwear, fix the st rap of my hat, and treat my knees with moxa The moon at Matsushima weighed on me. I gave up my ramshackle house and moved in with Sanpuu. Weeds choke my door. My shack is now ready for festival dolls. Eight poems were left behind on the post of a house, the first page of an anthology. 2. The end of March. A thick dawn. Th e moon was being overwhelmed as the tip of Fuji crept out of the distance. In Ueno, in Yanaka, the flowers roosted high in the trees, maybe my last glimpse of them. All my friends were still around me from the night before. They got on the boat to see me off as far as Senju's wharf. The thought of my future, three thousand ri ahead of me, pinched my heart. This world has always been a ghost to me, but I cried for it as I left. As spring recedes, birds call and fish weep. I had that written down for the start of my journey, but now I felt I wasn't going anywhere. The people watching me leave ha dn't moved. They were waiting for me to disappear, I guess.

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26VI)BELOW THE FALLS

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27 Comparable Suffering In the cradle of discrepancy of wealth ambitions found the slaves they needed. The phalanx of Lagash bloodied the fields. From the sack of Ur, a correspondent cries: "The people lay groaning in boulevards where the festivities of the land took place."

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28 Two Views from Inishmore 1. Storm-clouds gather thirty minutes off. A trawler swarmed with hacking gulls staggers through the whitecaps toward the bay. From wasteland to wasteland, the ferry shuttles foreigners through the channel. Far off, the ocean gives back nothing but a mockery of curdled sky. The water, though, is thin enough to show there's no life in it. Storm boulders thrown up in the sea's inhuman strength groan under the low wind, someone breathing into a flute without giving voice to it, or a cry just catching on the exhale. Tourist cairns balance on broken plates, the exhumed and shattered bones of the island. Lichen-crusted loaves of stone are raked into a labyrinth. The entire island is chevaux-de-frise could break the run of any animal. 2. The sun chews through the clouds, opening an eye-blue sky around it, a sudden clearness teasing out the hills of Connemara, the closest I've seen them. The glossy backs of upturned curraghs gleam. Wounds of distant waves repair themselves. Carcasses of rotting kelp give off the smell of an animal. A cow, standing off from the others, lows and moves to rejoin them.

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29 Sheep on the far hills look like the weathered ends of cigarettes. Bloody cranesbill huddles in the snugs of the split ground. I notice near-transparent shrimp, their pepper-pods of eyes and black intestines darting through limpet-warted pools the ocean gouged into the rocky strand. The far-off Bens resemble heads of cattle being swum across a trench.

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30 Eight Short Poems by Issa suzukaze yathe small cool wind chikara ippaistrengthens the sound kirigirisuof a locust natsuyama yahiking in summer, hitori kigen noI see a lonely wildflower ominaeshistanding alone tsuyu no yo noeven the world tsuyu no naka niteinside this drop of dew kenka kanais brawling yuki toketethe snow melts, mura ippai nothe village fills kodomo kanawith children suzukaze moanother cool breeze-hotoke makase nomy god, I know I need wagami kanato lose myself kore wa sateentering my sleep nemimi ni mizu noas if from underwater-hototogisua cuckoo's dark song yamaudo wathe mountain man's kura wo makura yasaddle is his pillow-naku hibaria skylark cries out naku na karithe barking of geese-dokko mo onajiit's all the same everywhere ukiyo zo yain the floating world

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31 Below the Falls Where water churns itself into the air, pulpy roots protrude from swollen trunks. We move together th rough the woods: a two. The greedy hemlocks crowded in the draw eclipse a hophornbeam. We've picked along a path held from the hollow's laurel hells to where a trickle pushes off the cliff and grabbles down into a greenstone bowl the drop has pestled through the same-old years. The lottery's been slow in spelling us. We can't get by on our inheritance, an heirloom made of an exhausted place. Roots of blighted chestnut trees miscarry doomed shoots over and over. We've hiked above the senseless mewling of the traffic. The kindred brambles lolling in their clade leech off the filtered sun, a sinecure. The clustered fruits are fat as neglected udders. It's only as the smacking of the leaves gets louder that we notice we're deluged; the spit had hid a breaking-in of rain. Our people are as far as they could be. The stream swells up with rain. The falls engorge; its cataracts erupt and issue mud. The current lifts a shingle from the bed and a runty-legged newt, concocted here, abandons its appendages and swims. What do we do? Protect an heirless joy or fold our suffering into this place? The limpid races aren't potable. The thrushes drop a stranger's progeny. Let's huddle in our leave a little while before we hurry back to our fatigues.

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32VII)CALENDAR

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33 February A fiddle-leafed fig splays against the glass of a courtyard window, absorbed in the short light the city lets past its architecture, the way a long-necked girl leans into the window of a train snaking through a sliver of her undiscovered world.

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34 April Wednesday's child, the summer will be hard, new friends' mouths fouling the lips of our cups. Black humors well up in the flaps of our organs. The stems of our brains snake down between our hearts and heads like the necks of birds we saw together ages ago. Where was it we heard that foxes get married on days like today, when it rains through a blue sky? I want to stay here in my youth with you. It's all that I remember.

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35 November We long ago discovered that we won't survive this gorgeous place. This gentle fall we've tucked away all memory. The broken leaves behind our house are being ground into the antdemolished yard. Sprigs of moss trail from the lawn as if behind a sinking girl. I can tell you from the photographs I took of you when we first met. The years you lost your baby-face have changed us both. A couple of crows clutch in their clawed and leathered feet a thick, black wire. Their static-like electric voice is channeling the idle talk of intimates.

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36NOTES

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37NOTES How the Moon Was Trapped: Based on a story collected in Myths and Legends of Fiji and Rotuma by A.W. Reed and Inez Hames. Taci and Nadoria were villages in precolonial Fiji. Oku's Narrow Road: (translated with help from Yoshiko Umino). Shirakawa checkpoint : border checkpoints, where travelers ha d to show identification papers, were common at the time. The god of wanderers refers to Dousojin, a deity who protected travelers, represented by stone markers along the road and at bridges, etc. Moxa : a kind of grass burnt on the pressure points below the knees, believed to strengthen the legs. Sampuu : Bashou's friend and patron, a wealthy fish-merchant. Festival dolls : elaborate dolls displayed during on Girl's Day, March 3. A family with a young girl moved into the house after Bashou left. Ueno : a city in Edo. Yanaka : a village in Edo, famous for cherry blossoms. Senju : a fishing town just north of Edo. Ri : Chinese measurement equivalent to 2.44 miles. Comparable Suffering: Final quote taken from The Sack of Ur by Anonymous. Two Views from Inishmore: Chevaux-de-frise : a defensive forest of sharp stone spikes surrounding Iron Age fortresses. Curraghs : small boats with wooden framework covered with tarred canvas.

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38BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Kevin Barents was born in Honolulu, Hawa ii, and has lived most of his life in Virginia. Prior to attending th e MFA program at the University of Florida, he received a BA in English and education from James Madi son University in Virginia and an MA in the writing seminars in poetry from J ohns Hopkins University in Baltimore.