Rick Barot is the winner of the 2016 PEN Open Book Award for Chord. Barot’s complex, elegant, and observant poems confront the role of language in addressing the concerns of our world. Spanning a variety of subjects, this collection is intimate, musical, and thoughtful. The following are three poems from the collection.
—Consorcia Alvarez Barot, 1913-2005
It is not always joy
that is announced to you
in the ordinary light.
Not always a wing
or a flood of new knowledge
delivering its atoms of change
to your body.
Sometimes it is
a wound delivered,
just as plainly as in those
paintings, her head tilted
up or down, in an angle of
resignation and responsibility.
No fanfare in the room
other than some structure inside you
by what you have received,
the heart a putty-colored
folding chair knocked
to the ground.
And the room itself, emptied,
this is part of the recognition.
The room a wound,
the light a wing on the floor,
the atoms of dust
in the shaft. And the quiet,
that is grief’s appetite.
it was in the middle of the night
the middle of dying the houses slept
but we did not sleep it was not
dark it was not dark
memory not so much a plow
not the fierce direction into
the layered ground but like light’s
refraction light breaking
we surround the hole of the
room of dying we surround her mouth
the hole of clear air the portal
of waiting watching the hole
the light breaking against bright
surfaces then springing on others
on leaf and on face on
water gray as a breastplate
light breaking on the oxygen tank on the
instruments of medical measure
and above us the dresser’s figurine
Mary her dress pink as a mouth
light breaking against the daughter
taking a pulse another praying against
a corner in the breath’s
duration in the indrawn breath
why not see it simply as lost blood
pressure the breath ceasing
one unreleased gasp why not see it
as body parting with its function
her face is a fall leaf parchment
I am writing her face
I am writing a parchment love
the parchment I am writing upon
and no alarm at all with her stopped breath
something like a cheer going up
among us the accomplishment
of an arrival the cheer and wailing
and memory now not so much catching
as caught in the labyrinth
designed like a thumb’s whorls
caught while in wonder’s order
then there was the speck they
saw in the room afterwards the grasshopper
green live contraption contriving grief
the grief that is green in December
Chord that is your satin purple dress, love’s good synesthesia.
Chord that is your classroom’s chalked board, its elementary figures.
Chord that is letters, that is photo albums, that is rosaries, that is money.
Chord that is the lion-gold hills along the Central Valley, our I-5 songs.
Chord that is your young husband, outlived longer than he lived.
Chord that is a photograph of you among tulips, the field now no field.
Chord that is time, that is children, that is houses, that is countries.
Chord that is your name, conjugation for the sun and for consolation.
Chord that is your throat, its Sunday hymns unabashed, unstricken.
Read more from the finalists of the 2016 PEN Open Book Award
- Bastards of the Reagan Era by Reginald Dwayne Betts
- Forest Primeval: Poems by Vievee Francis
- Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
- Trace by Lauret Savoy
Read other excerpts from the 2016 PEN Literary Award winners and finalists here.